The author of the book, “The fishermen”, Chigozie Obioma was born in Akure, Nigeria. He was an OMI fellow at Ledig House, New York, and has won Hopwood Awards for fiction and poetry. He has lived in Nigeria, (which was the country location where his story and book “The Fishermen” was set), Cyprus, Turkey and he currently lives in the United States where he is a Helen Zell Fellow in creative writing at the University of Michigan.
The story was set in a Nigerian town (Akure) in the mid-1990s, where four brothers encountered a madman whose mystic prophecy of violence threatens the core of their close-knit family. The story was told from the point of view of nine-year-old Benjamin, the youngest of the four brothers. The book, The Fishermen tells the story of their unforgettable childhood in Akure when their strict father had to travel to a distant city for work, the brothers, took advantage of his extended absence to skip school and go fishing at the ominous, forbidden nearby river, there they met a dangerous madman who convinced the oldest of the boys that he is destined to be killed by one of his siblings. What followed next was an almost mythic event whose impact both tragic and redemptive will transcend the lives and imaginations of its characters and its readers.
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Chigozie Obioma’s talent as a powerful storyteller and gifted writer is evident from the very few first pages. He instantly and vividly evokes the legend behind a key character of the novel’s plot: the Omi-Ala – once a pure river, a clean source of fish and drinking water, and worshipped by the people of Akure like a god – became besmirched by rumor, condemned as evil by colonialists tooting Christianity; then defiled, tabooed, and condemned as untouchable in 1995, when its waters became steeped in the blood-soaked mystique of a floating mutilated corpse.
The Fishermen was set in Nigeria in the 1990’s when it was under the military rule of General Sani Abacha and recounts the fall of the Agwu family. Obioma, skillfully mixes national unrest, westernisation and modernity to parallel the paths of his characters, without turning the novel into a political discourse. Striking from the start, Obioma’s prose is hypnotic, casting spells on the reader with the folklore of the land, the myth and legends that contribute to the decline of the Agwus whose lives are ensnared by their customs and beliefs. This is no uplifting coming-of-age tale or revelatory retrospective contemplation. The interwoven parables are hard lessons, dark, brutal, mournful, and tragic. The author also masterfully uses the Nigerian tradition of storytelling as a literary subversive blanket for socio-political criticism; cautious not to overwhelm the central themes, it is subtle yet effective. Obioma acknowledges that “countries can take a wrong turn just as people can.” There are richness and beauty in the details of this story – the daily life and interactions of the family set against the political and social backdrop of Nigeria in the late 90’s. Ben describes each member of his family as an animal, often a bird, and poetically describes how that family member embodies that animal’s characteristics. Dazzling and viscerally powerful, The Fishermen never leaves Akure but the story it tells has an enormous universal appeal. Seen through the prism of one family’s destiny, this is an essential novel about Africa with all its contradictions: economic, political, and religious; and with the epic beauty of its own culture.
With this bold debut, Chigozie Obioma emerges as one of the most original new voices of modern African literature, echoing its older generation’s masterful storytelling with a contemporary fearlessness and purpose. The book was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2015.