The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

Date Read: June 4th 2015

Published: April 2015

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company

Pages: 304

The Fishermen

 The Blurb

In a Nigerian town in the mid-1990’s, four brothers encounter a madman whose mystic prophecy of violence threatens the core of their close-knit family.

Told from the point of view of nine-year-old Benjamin, the youngest of four brothers, The Fishermen is the Cain and Abel-esque story of the unforgettable childhood in 1990s Nigeria, in the small town of Akure. When their strict father has to travel to a distant city for work, the brothers take advantage of his extended absence to skip school and go fishing. At the omnious, forbidden nearby river, they meet a dangerous local madman who persuades the oldest of the boys that he is destined to be killed by one of his siblings.

What happens next is an almost mythic even whose impact – both tragic and redemptive – will transcend the lives and imaginations of the book’s characters and its readers.

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Review– ★★★★★ (5 stars)

The Fishermen is a dark, haunting, mythical story about brotherhood, love and madness. Ikenna, Boja, Obembe and Ben are four of six children of the Agwu family in Akure, Nigeria. Ikenna, who is 15 years old is the leader of the pack. Boja is the adventurous 14-year-old, Obembe is the book smart 11-year-old and Ben – who is the innocent narrator of this lyrical tale, is 9 years old. Once their father is assigned to work at a new location of the Central Bank of Nigeria, quite far away from his home, disorder slowly overtakes this family. I believe the absence of the boys’ father is the root of all the evil things that occur in this story. How crazy is it that the prophecy of the neighborhood madman Abulu, who the boys encounter on one of their forbidden fishing adventures to the Omi-Ala river, could be the catalyst for all the twists and turns that the Agwu family endures?

When you think things are getting better and the craziness of this story plateaus, something pops up! I feel like I know/knew Ikenna, Boja, Obembe and Ben – their love and brotherhood are so dear to me, I don’t know why! I felt helpless during many parts of this story. At certain parts I just had to close the book, sit still… and pray. I desperately wanted to help Ikenna. I wanted to whisper into his ear and reassure him that his brothers loved him so much and that nobody was out to kill him. I wanted to goad Boja to have more patience with Ikenna since he (Ikenna) was going through a dark, miserable phase in his life where his faith and confidence were shaken.

Chigozie Obioma wrote about these boys in such a tender way that evoked lots of emotions in me. Obioma actually wrote this novel as a tribute to his own brothers and he discusses this more in interviews with Michigan Quarterly Review and Bookanista. I believe Obioma does a great job at painting the picture of a typical Nigerian household in The Fishermen. He captures classic Nigerian idiosyncrasies through the characters, for example: the way the boys’ mother would shout ‘Chineke!’ (which is an Igbo word that means ‘God!’) whenever she was startled; or how she would vigorously tie her wrapper whenever she was frustrated with the boys; or how their chauvinistic father would shout ‘my friend!’ whenever he was irritated and demanded quick responses from the boys and their mother. If you’ve ever watched a Nollywood film, you would definitely appreciate these entertaining gestures!

The power of Obioma’s lyrical writing style is augmented by his metaphors, which are mostly rooted in animism. This may seem corny, but trust me – it certainly works in making the characters and different incidents in the story feel too real… and every word counts! References to Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart, M.K.O Abiola – a popular Nigerian political figure, alongside other contemporary happenings (during 1997) made this all the more a satisfying and realistic read. I’m super proud of this author and I wish him nothing but more success! This has been the best book I’ve read all summer and maybe even this year.

Side note: After reading this book, I’ve had second thoughts about my desire to give birth to only boys – as if I even have a choice, am I God? haha. But I’ve come to the realization that raising boys (and children in general) is truly a challenge. Parental guidance is needed at all times!

The Fishermen needs more attention in the blogosphere! I’m still trying to digest some stuff from the book and I would love to discuss The Fishermen in detail with anyone who has already read it. I’m waiting for my Mom to finish reading the book so we can discuss the ending which slightly threw me off. I hope bookworms around the world catch on and rave about this book as much as they did Adichie’s Americanah. I expect The Fishermen to win some literary awards soon.

Chigozie Obioma definitely took fiction to another level with this book. Please, please pick this up if you get a chance!

★★★★★ (5 stars) – Amazing book, I loved it. Absolutely recommend!

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Purchase The Fishermen on Amazon

And the 2015 Caine Prize winner is…

Its that time of year again! In about two weeks, the 2015 Caine Prize winner will be announced!

For those who are not familiar, the Caine Prize for African Writing, which was first awarded in 2000 is an award “open to writers from anywhere in Africa for work published in English. Its focus is on the short story, reflecting the contemporary development of the African story-telling tradition” (source).

Some notable winners of the Caine Prize include:

  • Leila Aboulela, from Sudan (2000)– author of novels Minaret, Lyrics Alley amongst other works. 
  • Binyavanga Wainaina, from Kenya (2002)– founding editor of Kwani?, author of novel, One Day I Will Write About This Place and the essay “How To Write About Africa” found in various literary magazines.
  • Yvonne A. Owuor, from Kenya (2003)– author of the novel, Dust.
  • E.C Osondu, from Nigeria (2009) – author of the novel, Voice of America: stories.
  • NoViolet Bulawayo, from Zimbabwe (2011) – author of the novel, We Need New Names

This year, the Caine Prize shortlist comprises of five talented young writers with unique short stories (left to right):

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  • Elnathan John (Nigeria) for “Flying” in Per Contra (Per Contra, International, 2014)
    Shortlisted in 2013 for “Bayan Layi”
    Read “Flying”
  • Masande Ntshanga (South Africa) for “Space” in Twenty in 20 (Times Media, South Africa, 2014)
    Read “Space”
  • Namwali Serpell (Zambia) for “The Sack” in Africa39 (Bloomsbury, London, 2014)
    Shortlisted in 2010 for “Muzungu”
    Read “The Sack”
  • F. T. Kola (South Africa) for “A Party for the Colonel” in One Story (One Story, inc. Brooklyn, New York City, 2014)
    Read “A Party for the Colonel”
  • Segun Afolabi (Nigeria) for “The Folded Leaf” in Wasafiri (Wasafiri, London, 2014)
    Caine Prize winner 2005 for “Monday Morning”
    Read “The Folded Leaf”

(The biographies for the shortlisted candidates can be found – here).

To be honest, I was a bit disappointed that this year’s countries shortlist was more of a dichotomy between Nigeria and South Africa. I expected a more diverse pool of stories to enjoy. But hey! Its the stories that matter, right?

I read Namwali Serpell’s story ‘The Sack‘, as it is one of the short stories in the Africa39 anthology that I own. I don’t know how I feel about her story…It’s a little confusing to me! From what I gather, the story is about the protagonist (I don’t know if this is a boy or girl) having nightmares about being killed, while the men he/she lives with use a young black orphan to go fishing and later debate whether the orphan should live with them or not. There also seems to be a feud between the men in the house, as one is elderly and seems to be sick and grumpy. Humph! If anyone has read the story and understands it, please do explain!

My favorite story so far is ‘Flying’ by Elnathan John. ‘Flying’ is how a short story should be: simple yet moving. The story is about Tachio – a JSS3 (9th grade) dorm leader of a refuge home/school, who believes he can fly once he falls asleep. This feeling of flying brings him peace and joy. He shares his joy of flying with his friend Samson, but is deemed mad. Once Tachio tells foul-mouthed Aunty Ketura, who is the founder of Kachiro Refuge Home, she appreciates his belief of flying and assumes Tachio was a bat, vulture or eagle in his past life. Since Tachio is the dorm leader, he frequently cleans Aunty Ketura’s office and later finds the drawer where she keeps all the records of the boys and girls in the home. Finding out that some of his friends were initially found near trash cans, in market places and in toilets, makes Tachio (who was born in a hospital) feel like he has an edge over his classmates who have no idea of their origins. The story ends with the sudden death of Aunty Ketura, which shocks the whole school, especially Tachio. But the strange presence of a big brown chicken with a limp on their school compound gives Tachio solace, as he believes Aunty Ketura has been incarnated into this bird.

Elnathan’s use of metaphors in comparing human appearances to animals gave the story some spice. I mostly appreciated how readers can get the full scope of Tachio’s wavering feelings of being a dorm leader, wanting to be mischievous with his friends, to wanting to please Aunty Ketura, seeking advice and comfort from Aunty Ketura etc. I’m yet to read the last three stories on the shortlist, but ‘Flying’ is the most enjoyable story to me thus far. It’s simple, understandable and moving.

Which story is your favorite? Who do you think will win the Caine Prize this year?

The winner will be announced on the 6th of July at the Weston Library, Oxford, England. Good luck to all the shortlisted candidates!

The Trouble with Nigeria by Chinua Achebe

Date Read: April 5th 2015

Published: 1983

Publisher: Heinemann

Pages: 68

Chinua Achebe

The Blurb

The eminent African novelist and critic, here addresses Nigeria’s problems, aiming to challenge the resignation of Nigerians and inspire them to reject old habits which inhibit Nigeria from becoming a modern and attractive country. In this famous book now reprinted, he professes that the only trouble with Nigeria is the failure of leadership, because with good leaders Nigeria could resolve its inherent problems such as tribalism; lack of patriotism; social injustice and the cult of mediocrity; indiscipline; and corruption.

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Review – ★★★★★ (5 stars)

“The trouble with Nigeria is simply a failure of leadership…The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership.” pg. 1

The title, The Trouble with Nigeria should actually be called ‘The Trouble with Africa’. In this short book, Achebe questions the motives of the leaders and citizens of Nigeria. Achebe systematically breaks this book into ten chapters, where he discusses the various problems Nigeria was facing in 1983. Some of these chapters are entitled: Tribalism, Indiscipline, Corruption, False Image of Ourselves, Social Injustice and the Cult of Mediocrity, amongst others.

This book is simply brilliant. It is short and straight to the point! Everyone should read this, especially African politicians and people in positions of power. But do African politicians read? A myriad of books in the African Literature genre mirror the happenings of society. Authors use their amazing talent and writing abilities to articulate the faults of our leaders and societies through their stories/fictitious characters. Do the leaders of our societies read these books to hear how the layman feels about the conditions of their nations? Do they care? Even though this book was written in 1983, most of the issues Achebe discusses hold true to Ghana, and other African countries as well- even in present day 2015. Corruption, indiscipline, tribalism, lack of patriotism, illiteracy and greed are killing administrations in several African nations. We honestly need to do better as a people and this book explains why with boldness, style and sharp wit. I loved this! Thank you Chinua Achebe.

My favorite quotes from The Trouble with Nigeria:

“Nigerians are what they are only because their leaders are not what they should be.” pg. 10

“A true patriot will always demand the highest standards of his country and accept nothing but the best for and from his people. He will be outspoken in condemnation of their short-coming without giving way to superiority, despair or cynicism. That is my idea of a patriot.” pg. 16

“Look at our collapsing public utilities, our inefficient and wasteful parastatals and state-owned companies… If you want electricity, you buy your own generator; if you want water, you sink your own bore-hole; if you want to travel, you set up your own airline. One day soon, said a friend of mine, you will have to build your own post office to send your letters!” pg. 20 (Yes, this holds true to Ghana as well, especially issues of electricity *sigh*).

“I must now touch, however briefly, on the grace undermining of national discipline which the siren mentality of Nigerian leaders fosters. In all civilized countries the siren is used in grave emergencies by fire engines, ambulances and the police in actual pursuit of crime. Nigeria, with its remarkable genius of travesty, has found a way to turn yet another useful invention by serious-minded people elsewhere into a childish and cacophonous instrument for the celebration of status.” pg. 34 (Sadly, this is a daily occurrence in Ghana as well. Especially during rush hour).

“My frank and honest opinion is that anybody who can say that corruption in Nigeria has not yet become alarming is either a fool, a crook or else does not live in this country.” pg. 37 (This guy was bold, sheesh!)

“Knowledgeable observers have estimated that as much as 60 percent of the wealth of its nation is regularly consumed by corruption. I have no doubt that defenders of our system would retort: Mere rumor! Where is the proof? No one can offer ‘satisfactory’ proof for the simple reason that nobody issues a receipt for a bribe or for money stolen from the public till.” pg. 41

★★★★★ (5 stars) – Amazing book, I loved it. Absolutely recommend!

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Purchase The Trouble With Nigeria on Amazon

The Palm-Wine Drinkard by Amos Tutuola

Date Read: February 3rd 2015

Published: 1952

Publisher: Faber and Faber

Pages: 125

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The Blurb 

*no blurb*

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Review – ★★★ (3 stars)

The unnamed, naive Palm-Wine Drinkard, who likes to call himself ‘Father of gods Who Could Do Anything in This World’ is the narrator of this story and he takes readers through his peculiar adventures with his wife, in search for their dead palm-wine tapster. The Palm-Wine Drinkard’s tapster mysteriously falls from a palm tree as he is tapping palm wine for the Drinkard and dies. Deeply saddened by this great loss (in the plenitude of palm wine the tapster used to collect), the Palm-Wine Drinkard starts his quest to find his dead tapster. His search to find the tapster commences a crazy, frightful journey filled with evil spirits, demons and other strange, supernatural creature encounters. This is basically an African fantasy book.

I hated this book, initially. The horrid descriptions had me cringing and I found some stuff quite demonic (I couldn’t read this at night before bed because I was afraid I’d dream of some of the weird-ass creatures from the book). This book reminded me of the ‘Ananse the Spider’ folktales, but The Palm-Wine Drinkard is a more extreme and exaggerated type of folktale! The story-line got better when I gave this book a second try after abandoning it for sometime. Amos Tutuola is a great writer with a freaky imagination.

Excerpts with strange, cringe-worthy descriptions:

“When I completed three and a half years in that town, I noticed that the left hand thumb of my wife was swelling out as if it was a buoy, but it did not pain her. One day, she followed me to the farm in which I was tapping the palm-wine, and to my surprise when the thumb that swelled out touched a palm-tree throne, the thumb bust out suddenly and there we saw a male child came out of it and at the same time that the child came out from the thumb, he began to talk to us as if he was ten years of age.” pg. 31 (What the heck? Gross)

“As we sat down under this tree and were thinking about that night’s danger, there we saw a ‘Spirit of Prey’, he was big as a hippopotamus, but he was walking upright as a human-being; his both legs had two feet and tripled his body, his head was just like a lion’s head and every part of his body was covered with hard scales, each of these scales was the same in size as a shovel or hoe, and all curved towards his body.” pg. 54 (Urgh! This stressed me out)

But Tutuola’s ability to have me cringing in my seat as I read some of the demonic encounters the Palm-Wine Drinkard faced is a testament of his tangible writing skill- his way with words and his imagination are quite wild! Another thing I liked about this book was the English and writing style. The writing may seem to be in pidgin or broken English, but I learned that it’s actually a transliteration of Yoruba (a Nigerian language). The transliteration of Yoruba to English was quite enjoyable to read and gave the book a different flair I rarely get from other Nigerian novels.

Give this book a try if you like out-of-this-world, surreal stuff. African literature enthusiasts swear by this book and I understand why- Amos Tutuola is an extraordinary storyteller.

★★★ (3 stars) – Good book. I recommend it, I guess.

Purchase The Palm-Wine Drinkard on Amazon

Olikoye by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Olikoye

This is a simple short story, packed with positive vibes! In Olikoye, Adichie writes on the importance of vaccinations. The story appeals to your emotions and gives hope on the future of health care in Africa. I had a constant smile on my face as I read this.

Olikoye is about a woman in labor, reminiscing and telling a nurse a story her father once told her on how the Minister of Health in Nigeria saved the lives of several babies by introducing vaccines into hospitals. I hope African health practitioners in Africa AND abroad are inspired by this story, as there is so much more they can do to continue to save lives of the people of Africa.

Moreover, I really appreciated the union of literature and health care in this story. I rarely see this cross over in African writing and I found it refreshing, especially as I am now in dental school. I hope African authors can temporarily ditch the usual colonization, post-colonialism, immigration, forbidden romance, poverty themes and maybe branch a little more into issues on health care.

Read Olikoye HERE.

The Spider King’s Daughter by Chibundu Onuzo

Date Read: September 4th 2014

Published: 2012

Publisher: Faber and Faber Limited

Pages: 288

Spider King's Daughter cover

The Blurb

Seventeen-year-old Abike Johnson is the favourite child of her wealthy father. She lives in a sprawling mansion in Lagos, protected by armed guards and ferried everywhere in a huge black jeep.

A world away from Abike’s mansion, in the city’s slums, lives an eighteen-year-old hawker struggling to make sense of the world. His family lost everything after his father’s death and now he sells ice cream at the side of the road to support his mother and sister.

When Abike buys ice cream from the hawker one afternoon, they strike up a tentative and unlikely romance. But as they grow closer, revelations from the past threaten their relationship and both Abike and the hawker must decide where their loyalties lie.

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Review – ★★★★★ (5 stars)

Did you know that Chibundu Onuzo wrote The Spider King’s Daughter when she was 21 years old? I find that incredible! Her attention to detail of all the intricacies that could happen in a story involving two people are thoroughly explored, and I am very impressed! When I was reading this book, it felt like I was watching a Nigerian movie. The storyline is full of suspense, speculations and assumptions that could actually push this novel into the ‘thriller’ genre. The Spider King’s Daughter is a novel centered around two characters: Abike and Runner G.

Abike is a 17 year old spoiled brat, child of the Spider King- a mysterious, very wealthy man in Lagos. One day as she is chauffeured home from school, she spots a handsome hawker, Runner G, selling ice cream on the street. For days she tries to catch Runner G’s attention through her characteristic manipulative ways and finally starts a conversation with him on the street as she sits in her car. After some weeks, Abike and Runner G become friends and they spend their weekends together. Abike even invites this hawker, Runner G to her huge palace (againsts her father’s will) where they simply enjoy each others’ company and slowly fall in love. Their relationship seems to turn sour when Runner G starts to act strange around Abike, as others warn him of Abike’s true character.

Runner G is a street hawker who sells ice cream. He was not always a street hawker. He came from a middle-class home in the past. But after the death of his father- who was a lawyer, Runner G’s family fell into poverty. His mother is currently bed-ridden and depressed and he had to stop school and start hawking in order to pay his younger sister’s school fees. Runner G becomes Abike’s friend after she initiates conversation with him from her car in the street. He slowly falls in love with her, but later realizes she isn’t actually the person she portrays herself to be. Runner G hence starts to dig for information about Abike from her family members and her close friends who have nothing good to say about her. He later finds out that her lavish lifestyle, grâce à her father’s wealth, might actually be the reason why his family is in abject poverty.

The once cute-turned-dark love story between Abike and Runner G results in a truly unpredictable, shocking end, that pushes me to pity both Abike and Runner G.

The book was written from both Abike and Runner G’s perspectives- which was a bit confusing for me in the beginning. But it was great to see how two people could interpret an event or a day together in two completely different ways. Readers get to understand both Abike and Runner G’s thoughts and feelings towards the dynamic of their relationship and how possibly incompatible they actually are. I appreciated Onuzo’s commentary on hawker-life through Runner G’s character. It pushed me to actually put myself in their shoes and question the terrible economic disparities of our African nations.

Onuzo’s attention to detail was very impressive. Everything about this book, down to the smallest detail was great…it’s actually difficult to discuss this book without giving away spoilers. But I really really recommend this!

★★★★★ (5 stars) – Amazing book, I loved it. Absolutely recommend!

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Purchase The Spider King’s Daughter on Amazon

Girls at War and Other Stories by Chinua Achebe

Date Read: August 5th 2014

Published: September 1991

Publisher: First Anchor Books

Pages: 121

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The Blurb

Full of characteristic energy and authenticity, the stories in this classic collection capture the remarkable talent of one of the world’s most acclaimed writers and storytellers.

Here we read of an ambitious farmer who is suddenly shunned by his village when a madman exacts his humiliating revenge; a young nanny who is promised an education by her well-to-do employers, only to be cruelly cheated out of it; and in three fiercely observed stories about the Nigerian civil war, we are confronted with the economic ethnic, cultural and religious tensions that continue to rack modern Africa. Displaying an astonishing range of experience, Chinua Achebe deftly takes us inside the heart and soul of people whose pride and ideals must compete with the simple struggle to survive.

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Review – ★★★ (3 stars)

This is a decent collection of stories by Achebe.

My favorite stories were:

The Madman‘ – a tale of a once prominent man in a village who is humiliated by a vengeful madman. What a shameful but hilarious story!

Marriage is a Private Affair‘ – a story of a loving couple who are trying to convince their relatives of their forbidden love, as they are from different ethnic groups. I liked how Achebe wrote on the challenges of intermarriages between people of different ethnic groups especially as it is a problem we still face in Africa today.

Girls at War‘ – a tragic love story during the civil war in Nigeria. The story is centered on the short-lived romance between a militia girl and the Minister of Justice, living on the edge during the dangerous times of the civil war.

I don’t think I enjoyed reading this collection of short stories. Achebe’s writing style and storytelling manner were phenomenal as usual, but I wasn’t really interested in the subject matter of most of the stories. To be honest, I purchased the book because I loved the book cover design! And I must say, I still like the book cover design more than the stories, hahaa! But I do recommend this book- especially to the die-hard Chinua Achebe fans…this would be a fast read for you.

★★★ (3 stars) – Good book. I recommend it, I guess.

Purchase Girls at War and Other Stories on Amazon

Currently Reading

I recently finished reading ‘The Spider King’s Daughter’ by Chibundu Onuzo and I loved it! A review will be posted soon!

*sigh* But (dental) school is in session and I know my reading will slow down. I’ve already surpassed by reading goal for this year- which was 12 books. Right now I’m on book 15, so at least I was able to complete my reading challenge!

I’m currently reading: The Palm-Wine Drinkard by Amos Tutuola

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This is a small book (about 125 pages). So hopefully it won’t take me ages to finish reading and will also be a fun distraction from my school workload 🙂