The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma is set in the 1990s in Akure, a small town in Nigeria; and centers around four brothers who commit to fishing at the forbidden (and cursed) Omi-Ala River.
Their father, Mr. Agwu, wants his sons to be juggernauts—children who will “dip their hands into rivers, seas, oceans of this life and become successful: doctors, pilots, professors, lawyers.”
Things change when Mr. Agwu is transferred out of town for work and the brothers realize that they can evade their mother’s attempts to keep them at bay. The brothers start to skip school to embark on fishing adventures.
Despite warnings by a priest, and beatings by their father after he learns about their visit to Omi-Ala, they continue with their fishing expeditions. After all, they are fishermen, not juggernauts, as their father would say.
As time goes on they encounter the madman, Abulu, who speaks a prophecy that is destined to be fulfilled.
The youngest brother, Benjamin, narrates the foreshadowing.
There is grief, chaos, and healing; but more importantly for the Agwu family, redemption.
This story took my breath away.
From the beginning until the end, I was under a hypnotic spell of carefully worded sentences and descriptions. The writing is as poetic, as it is, mystical and vivid.
The best part of the novel is the interweaving of folklore with the realities of a country, family, and sibling relationships. The author succeeds in capturing pieces of the political chaos that marked Nigeria in the 90s.
Overall, a stellar debut novel and one of the best books I have read in a long time.
In 2016, Newsweek published an interesting article about the author, Nigeria, and his plans for a future novel. Available here.