An Orchestra of Minorities

Image of An Orchestra of Minorities
Release Date: 
January 7, 2019
Little, Brown & Company
Reviewed by: 

"Chigozie Obiama is one of many top-notch Nigerian novelists writing today."

This is African magical realism. It is partly mysterious musings and happenings. Partly a sad story of unrequited love. Chigozie Obiama is one of many top-notch Nigerian novelists writing today. They are well appreciated in the US and Britain. He is closest to Ben Okri, the Booker prize-winner (the UK’s senior literary prize) who initiated African magical realism with his amazing, totally unusual and path-breaking, The Famished Road.

An example of African magical realism comes from the following paragraph from Obiama’s second novel. It is quite a bit different from its older Latin American counterpart. “Even when our hosts sleep, we remain awake. We watch over them against the forces that breathe in the night. While men sleep, the world of the ethereal is replete with the noise of wakefulness and the susurration of the dead. Agwus, ghosts, akaliogolis, spirits and ndiichies on short visits to the earth all crawl out of the blind eyes of the night and tread the earth with the liberty of ants, oblivious to human boundaries, unaware of walls and fences. Two spirits arguing may struggle and tumble into the house of a family and fall on them and continue to wrestle through them. Sometimes, they merely walk into the habitations of men and watch them.”

Egbunu, a poultry farmer, is the love-stricken man and the story begins with him talking a love-hurt woman, Nadi, out of killing herself by jumping from a high bridge one dark night. “A deeply wounded woman,” he concludes. Some days later he sees her driving along the street and he recalls his shock at the encounter. It “fastened itself to a branch of his mind like a viper.” She stops the car and they meet. They decide to meet for dinner. A few days later she texts him and asks if she can visit him at home. Unsurprisingly, they become lovers.

She is studying to be a pharmacist. Her father is very rich. She invites him home to meet her parents and brother. They take against him. She would be marrying beneath her.

Egbunu hears that a good, cheap, way to get a degree and thus upgrade his attractiveness to her parents would be to go to university in Cyprus. He is double-crossed by an old friend who was going ahead with his money to secure a place in the university and to find him an apartment. He arrives impoverished. The university turns him down. The sad story continues. He is too ashamed to keep in touch with Nadi—he feels he goes from one crisis to another and he shouldn’t be in touch until he has got his degree. And so it goes on. . . .

A fine and moving story. “A great silence came upon him, one so overpowering that he could not hear the faintest breath. But it was a deceptive silence, for he knew that in that moment an army was approaching, the sound of their marching feet thundering through the land. And soon they—the thousands of thoughts, imaginations, memories, visions of her—will arrive, illimitably vast across the wrinkled face of time. So he lay down as one merely waiting, as still as a dead hen stiffened by rigor mortis.”

What a remarkable writer Chigozie Obiama is.