Happy Friday Readers!
I bring a different voice to your reading pleasure today. As some of you already know I like to seek reviews from other readers like me (that’s one of the objectives behind the reader’s review blog). Ifeanyi Mbah is a poet and a brilliant mind whose appreciation for words I greatly admire. I sought him out to write a review of Chigozie Obioma’s The Fishermen and I must confess that I couldn’t have written it better but I will leave the judgment to you!
A Review of Chigozie Obioma’s The Fishermen
Ifeanyi Chinweizu Mbah
I, dear reader, was an Egret. The one who announced the passing of the storm, and like rainbows, renewed hope as the last vestige of strength scarcely remained. Though my brothers – and sisters – were not fishermen, they were, like father and mother, eagles and falcons. Eaglets whose confidence in the strength of their ‘thalions’ and the length of their wings, though with eyes blinded by fungus, mistook a leviathan for a python. Mother the dreamer forestalled all the brewing madness; the falcon heard the falconer.
Father, like the father of Chigozie’s Fishermen brothers worked at the Central Bank. While things began to fall apart as Benjamin’s father left his wife and children in Akure on transfer to Yola, my father left his family in Yola on transfer to Lagos. And while their mother longed to join her husband in Yola but couldn’t, my mother had to leave Yola with her children. For it was a time when anti-tribal skirmishes were rife, and the annulled 1993 elections stirred murky waters. An event we often termed Oso Abiola (loosely translating to the Abiola Exodus). One etched in the mind of the Fishermen brothers, and my siblings too. But like the younger ones, too young and untouched by the storm, I was an Egret.
Such is the likeness of the story of the Fishermen to that of mine. From the excitement of executing a fatality at the end of a Mortal Kombat game; to the regularity of eating “black eyed peas marignated in palm oil sauce”; to reckoning the virality of the local hit movie Living in Bondage; and even more importantly, the most ubiquitous presence of the near naked madmen on our streets. The world of the brothers – Obinna, Boja, Obembe and Ben – was in very many ways like mine.
Yet our worlds differ. The ominous omi-ala river, the town, the school and … yes, Abulu play such pivotal roles in the lives of these boys as they act out thought and learn the lesson of consequences. Growing into their skin and unwittingly taking their place in the self-fulfilling prophesy that came from the mouth of a madman. The beauty of the story, of the novel is not only in the riveting, relatable and grounding nature of the work (and it is all of these things) but also in the way it was told.
Chigozie’s telling of the story is so masterfully and elegantly done, it leaves the reader invigorated by its vividness and exasperated by how much emotion, and sometimes nostalgia it draws. It swings, like a pendulum, between poetry and prose, and is as such interwoven that they fuse into one. So that it is hard to tell if it is poetry or prose; like Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, wave or particle; like Schrodinger’s cat, dead or alive: both.
The book is one moment reminiscent of Thomas Hardy and his characteristic picturesque style that leaves you swooning, and another moment, a reminder of Chinua Achebe’s simplicity in bringing a character alive so that one could shake hands with it. A handshake the character often extends to the elbow. One may soon find synchrony between Chigozie’s Obinna and Obika, of Achebe’s Arrow of God. Both of them arguably their father’s favorite and both of them so romanticized by their authors, they can be said to be men who come once in a generation.
One may find certain over explanations commonly found in writings written for easy digestion by foreign readers. You are also likely to find a handful of seldom used vocabulary, but they are so well ensconced in the tapestry of words, they do not taste like seeds/lumps in pap.
It is a bold tale told through the eyes, ears and mouth of Benjamin, the moth. Who evolved with every day lived and every word written, to metamorphous into one with a courage that is no less compelling than it is uncanny. And though a moth may appear small, fragile and weak, one will find that if Tolkien’s Gandalf is anything to go by, moths are indeed helpers in need, bearers of hope and the forerunners of the Eagles. And Benjamin, the brave storyteller, was a moth.
Ifeanyi Chinweizu Mbah