Chigozie Obioma’s The Fishermen : A review by Ndi Charles

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In chronicling the journey of the Agwu family into the unknown, The Fishermen comes across as an impressive narrative even for 29 year old Benjamin. The narrative which aims to balance explanations against suspense and mystery as though balancing a book on a needle suddenly runs out of air. In search of air, its mouth widens gulping in the prophecy of Abulu, the mad man and subsequently spirals out of control.

However, I wondered if it was possible for Mr Agwu to work in CBN and have a car but not a generator.Was his marriage arranged? Father hardly called home, because mother waited endlessly for his calls, even marking the days he phoned on a calendar. I was aghast that Mrs Agwu padlocked her kitchen on nights she wanted to starve – scold her children. It seemed amazing that this Aje Butter children did not attend lesson, easily took to commoners, trekked turtous miles to Omi Ala, fetched water to bath from a well or went into town to watch televised football matches. Their being aje butter was reinforced by them asking Mother for the video game console father hid. Most especially because this happened immediately after getting into a fight during one of their earlier escapee football matches.

Mr Agwu seems to be a strict man, but the moment he is transferred to Yola, his house literally catches fire. Ikenna, who he left in charge readily falls to the pleasures of fishing, introducing Boja, Obembe and Benjamin. They all end up singing and fishing in the Omi Ala river whenever they are not smashing house windows with their football. Father as usual is an eagle, our National animal. With nests high up to watch over offspring, The Fishermen emphasizes the absence of love and mentorship as should be experienced between Father and son. In its place is a strict adherence to rules and code of conduct: composure, obedience,study and compulsory siesta. Adaku’s soliloquoy and waking up of children in the dead of the night is a Nigerian mothers way of extracting truth similar to the lie detector test.

The author is well read, there is an introduction to locusts, leeches, falcons, egrets and other species of the animal kingdom. Readers might skip a few pages of detailed description of Abulu, the mad man. The details have caused me apprehension whenever I encounter a mad man.

My favourite quote is the Igbo proverb at the beginning of the book: The footsteps of one man cannot create a stampede.

The author seems drawn into the myth he has created and is sometimes guilty of abandoning the story:

Pg 9 – At my suggestion we begged Mother to convince father to release the console game to play mortal kombat, which he seized and hid somewhere the previous year after Boja – who was known for his usual first position in his class – came home with 24th 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 Bukkky. father read out the letter in such a fit of anger that the only words I heard were Gracious me! Gracious me! which he repeated like a refrain. He would confiscate the games anf forever cut off 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 relieving 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.

Frustrated, we tried yet again to find a physical activity to fill up our after school hours now that we were free from father’s strict regulations.

Did Mother try to find the console? There are cartoons even on terrestial Tv for Ben at 9.What occupied Obembe and Ben before Ikenna started taking them fishing?

There is an obvious bending over backwards to please the immediate audience. I wonder how beans transformed into black eyed peas marinated in palm oil sauce. Can you guess that a motorcyle taxi is the same thing as an okada? The disconnect for the Nigerian reader is further accentuated:

pg 9 – The rest of the kids cheered and lifted the boy up, their voices molding into a chorus of victory complete with boos and uuhh uuhhh.

What happened to ohonyi or obenwe? uuh uuhs in Akure?

pg 292 – whenever we and the children of akure saw them flying in the sky, we rushed out and flapped our fingers after the low flying white flock travelling overhead, repeating the one- line saying:egrets, egrets, perch on me.

My robust imagination interpreted this as leke, leke give me water finger. Did you?

Ben’s dream is typical of every Nigerian: I will be a rich man, pilot, president of Nigeria, own helicopters.

There is a constant interplay of phrases using big big grammar. By the first page, Adaku had acquired the gait of wet mouse; the two ventricles held silence.I reached for the dictionary a few times, my vocabulary has improved.I learnt a new word: copse.

Photo credit: http://brittlepaper.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/fishermen-obioma-e1424833792611.jpg

©Ndi Charles 2015