Tuesday 22 December 2015

“The Fishermen” by Chigozie Obioma

Two things upset life for the Agwu’s family: the temporary absence of the “Guerdon” man and a superstitious anxiety. The Fishermen is a witty book, it makes sorrow almost a pleasurable thing to read. This novel is a receptacle of the gnashing ruins that nearly wipe out a family. The tragedy here is a bleeding one. Pages gush with unimaginable sorrows. With an elegant simplicity, Chigozie Obioma narrates a woe all at once terrible and vivid. With vivacious expressions sharply fleshing out images, the reader is inured to misfortunes. You are pulled into a participatory reading of the text. The Fishermen’s chic use of words entices the reader. In a way that smacks of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Chigozie Obioma creates beauty and shreds it. This book elaborates a quotidian family life interspersed with the fragile political tensions of the 1990’s. This is majorly the story of four brothers soused in fleeting joys and suffusive griefs. 

In a clearly portrayed 1990s, Ikenna, Boja, Obembe and Benjamin, all brothers, turn fishermen of fishes, hope, and disaster. Their childhood is battered repeatedly and adulthood soon steals on them. At Omi-Ala, they draw evil home. The turbulence that wracks their household creates a million stories for the reader’s delight. Flashbacks and foretelling chapter titles mix well in this book. Chapter titles like Fishermen, Sparrow, Locusts, and Fungus are suggestive of impending issues. The Fishermen blends the superstitious with the cultural. Everything you take away from the book is subjected to your belief. Life’s checkered nature is wicked as it bites hard on these brothers. This book is a quiver of memories, if you witnessed the full cycle of the ‘90s, memories of those times will flush you as you read. The Fishermen packs enough of infantile gimmickries and mischiefs to double you up. I could see bits of myself in the childhood of these fishermen; in their pranks and wits. My mother would never know (except she read this) why money charged for grinding pepper kept soaring each time she sent me and my sibling to the grinder. The surcharge paid for our stay at game houses. If you never played SEGA game console, your childhood needs to be reconstructed. Trust me. Your childhood is bland. This sent me chortling silly:

“After this fight, we got tired of going outdoors. At my suggestions, we begged Mother to convince Father to release the console game set to play Mortal Kombat, which he seized and hid somewhere the previous year after Boja – who was known for his usual first person in his class – came home with 14th scribbled in red ink on his report card and the warning Likely to repeat. Ikenna did not fare any better; his was sixteenth out of forty and it came with a personal letter to Father from his teacher, Mrs Bukky. Father read out the letter in such a fit of anger that the only words I heard were ‘Gracious me! Gracious me!’… He would confiscate the games and forever cut off from the moments that often sent us swirling with excitement, screaming and howling when the invisible commentator in the game ordered, ‘Finish him’, and the conquering sprite would inflict serious blows on the vanquished sprite by either kicking it up to the sky or by slicing it into a grotesque explosion of bones and blood. The screen would then go abuzz with ‘fatality’ inscribed in strobe letters of flame. Once, Obembe – in the midst of reliving himself – ran out of the toilet just to be there so he could join in and cry ‘That is fatal!’ in an American accent that mimicked the console’s voice-over. Mother would punish him later when she discovered he’d unknowingly dropped excreta on the rug.” (pg. 15)

This book could make for a good literary feminist reading. The frail place of women in the society, how they are subalterned, how they are made as the other, is subtly spread across the book. Women characters in the book seem lopsided and almost unintelligent. Things slip off them before they even know. The character of Mother is interesting. For someone who seems to “own copies” of her children’s “minds” (pg. 103), she seems not to be as vigilant as such. She is only fully realized in the presence of Father. Her maternal vigilance falls apart with his momentary absence. There is Iya Iyabo too, a gossip, someone who fits well into your stereotypical construction of a fish wife. This was in the ‘90s. This makes for an interesting study of women and their roles across ages. Was your ‘90s filled with these types of women or not? You could even do a brief study of women in the society from the ‘90s till now, and see if anything has really changed. Doing a literary feminist criticism of this book will then be critically assessing that aspect of feminist theory which Toril Moil calls the ‘feminine’ aspect as opposed to the ‘feminist’ phase of gender criticism. This ‘feminist’ aspect she calls a political position (see Peter Barry’s Beginning Theory, 2nd ed.). Feminine reading of the text will be exploring “a set of culturally identified characteristics” of women and see if women’s place in the society as portrayed in this novel has not been exaggerated or understated.

In a flush of thick mishaps, events in this book follow after the law of causality. This calls David Hume’s “Necessary Conjunction” to mind, the way minds are copies of experiences (see David Hume’s An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding). Causality says the human minds run in a tight chain of causes and effects. By experience, we habitually give ready conclusions to things. If A happens, then we know B will necessarily follow. This curious case of automatic relation of things and events deepens the tragedy in The Fishermen. People’s experiences with the crazed yammering of Abulu make Abulu a god. Even the supernatural seems to be at a loss on how to deal with Abulu. Ikenna is driven sore and begins providing conclusions to Abulu’s utterings. Even their educated Father falls prey to this automatic relation of events. It is just human to necessarily conjunct related events. This is the way our society is built. Chigozie Obioma takes us to that tender territory of our psyche and how it affects our lives and communities.

I love this book! Editors of this book did something sterling. I could not find a sentence out of place. The use of punctuations marvel you. Words jump out of the book and pull you in. You can feel their hands on you. This is editing at its best. I love The Fishermen.



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  1. For the most part,I had to pause over and over and put my mother in place of Ikenna's mother. On every occasion,I shook my head violently. No,my mother would have strangled the devil out of that thing that wants to break her family. Nonetheless, I cannot dismiss that a family as depicted in "The Fishermen" does exist.
    I wanted so much for the family to get a reprieve. My only consolation, as Chigozie would deem fit was that simple hug and his description of Nkem,when Ben returned home from serving his jail term.
    It was a good book.

    Well reviewed too.

  2. Critically looking at this book, i wouldn't conclude that boja killed his brother, considering the fact that no one was actually present to witness what actually transpired between ikenna and boja in the kitchen. Even benjamin that the author used as a narrator in the text was not present to witness what happenes exactly. He and obembe had ran out to search for help to stop the fight only to meet the dead body of ikenna. Even the narration Benjamin gave concerning the fight between ikenna and boja was an imagination as he said..."i imagined" Don't forget that no body was present except boja and ikenna and as the two witnesses died, no one could actually give the detailed account of what happened exactly...would it be right to say that the writer didn't explicitly express the carthasis of the play.