Review – The Fishermen, Chigozie Obioma


This book took me such a long time to finish! I can’t quite explain why – other than the fact that I am a slow reader in general. But even so, two months is a bit excessive!
That said, its story is a richly textured weave: the tragedy of these young brothers’ lives played out against the backdrop of 1990s Nigeria and the atrocities commited by the Abache regime. It’s a story which frequently drifts from its moorings, spiralling backwards into histories – both personal and national, or detailing the stories of other, secondary characters. In this respect, The Fishermen has much in common with oral narrative techniques, in which the storyteller may spin off in many different directions, improvise or mix in songs and poetry.
I wasn’t too comfortable with some of the overtly metaphorical imagery that Obioma employs. Again, I’m not quite sure why – it seemed too elaborate, and held up the thrust of the narrative. Ben, the narrator of the story, for example, describes the mad-man prophet Abulu in the following way: “His face was fecund with a beard that stretched from the side of his face down to his jaw…The matrixes of his fingernails were long and taut…” I couldn’t quite decide why I found the complexity of such descriptive passages so disturbing. I guess it’s just a stylistic issue and therefore fairly subjective. But I found it sometimes jarred rather than delivered the lean, clean image I was expecting.
I think I would like to return to The Fishermen at a later date. I have the sense that there was something I was missing and that I will pick up on a reread. It is a story which sits in the memory long after you’ve finished the novel and it delves into aspects of human relationships which are sometimes almost unbearable to read.