I know it’s a “rule” to not judge a book by its cover, but I broke that rule when I first saw the cover of Chigozie Obioma’s book. It’s very simple, yet absolutely attractive. From the title, you expect the novel to be about a bunch of fishermen, which is not entirely the case. The titular theme is more of a subplot than the main plot arc.
The Fishermen is a story centred around four brothers, Ikenna, Boja, Obembe and Benjamin (most times referred to as Ben in the novel), who begin to fish at a river in their town after their father moves to another state for a new job. During one of their fishing trips, they meet the neighbourhood madman who approaches them and makes a series of unpleasant prophecies concerning the eldest brother, Ikenna. From that day, their lives change. A string of events and conflicts ensue which determines the relationship among the brothers as well as their fates and that of their family as a whole.
The book is written from the point of view of the youngest brother, Benjamin, who was just nine years old at the time. I find books with child protagonists as the narrators quite interesting, but on the other hand, they are sometimes very sad. When reading a book written from a child’s perspective, I feel all of the emotions at every given instance. The fact that Ben had to witness and be a part of the horrible things that transpired in his family made the narrative really sad. But this is not to distract from the fact that his two younger siblings, David and Nkem (though barely mentioned in the book), also witnessed all of the commotions.
A personal connection I made with the characters is the relationship among the brothers. I could relate to the bond, arguments and conflicts amongst them. It reminded me of my siblings and me: how we are sometimes outwardly loving to one another and, at other times, want to get at one another’s neck because we annoy one another so much. They started off as best friends and had such a strong bond between them, but then began to drift apart as Ikenna started to change. As a result of the madman’s prophecies, he had begun to lose trust in his brothers and would get angry at anyone due to paranoia, which almost made him run mad.
I enjoyed the fact that each character was carefully described. Ben loved animals, so it’s no wonder that when describing his family, he compared them to animals who matched their characteristics. Ikenna was a python, Boja, a fungus, Obembe, a search dog and Benjamin, a moth. These names are also used as metaphors for events that occur in the book.
This book explores some dark themes including family conflicts, paranoia and madness. One of the underlying themes is political unrest, as evidenced in the book during the historical period of the 1993 presidential elections. I enjoy Nigerian books set in past times, I find them more interesting than contemporary books. It is set in Nigeria of the ’90s during the tenure of Late General Sani Abacha, which was not a very good economic period.
Chigozie Obioma’s style of writing is strong, detailed and evocative. I could imagine myself in the story, with the characters and in the various settings. One can feel the emotions of the characters when reading. The description of the settings and characters was painstaking and elaborate. Despite the fact that I’ve never been to Akure, his vivid description of the town made it seem as though I’d lived in that neighbourhood along with them for a long while.
Even though things took a dark turn, I enjoyed reading this 18-chapter novel. In my opinion, the writing was admirable. And I could relate to certain events in the story, which just made it more enjoyable.
I encourage you to give this book a read. It is available as an eBook, hardcover and paperback.