The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma
Set in 1990s Nigeria, this book is about four brothers and a mad prophet. It is unlike any book I’ve read before and is both a quick read and one that gives you things to think about. I think the quote from the book that really sums up the theme is this:
I have now come to know that what one believes often becomes permanent, and what becomes permanent can be indestructible.
The boys start out being very close to each other, friends as well as brothers. They are generally good kids without too many problems. Sure, they did things they weren’t supposed to, but nothing major. Nothing to make you think they were bad kids.
Then, one day they encounter Abulu, the madman/prophet who is known to accurately predict terrible events. He makes a prophecy about one of the brothers, and then things start to go wrong. This is the controversy at the center of the whole book, and so many crazy things happen from that point. The boys’ focus on this prophecy essentially helps it to come true. Would any of these events ever happened if not for hearing that prophecy? It’s impossible to know, but the idea of its certainty drove characters to act, and in that sense, it was almost self-fulfilling.
This book was so unique. Many of the chapters compared specific people to bugs or birds or other creatures, and poetically described them, laying out the behaviors that made the author (or the ten-year-old narrator) think of the similarities. One chapter compares people to locusts, one to spiders, and so on.
I think a lot of what was so interesting to me was the cultural differences between Nigeria and the U.S. (where I live). Even in the 90s, I don’t remember kids so young being given so much freedom, nor could I imagine anyone accepting the punishment the kids’ dad doles out (although I’m sure that in families less like mine, this happened near me, too). The kids have such a keen awareness of war and political struggles, in part because it’s right there where they are. When I was ten, maybe I knew about a war, and maybe not, but I don’t remember thinking about it on a daily basis.
The other thing that really struck me was that the boys’ dad was given a work transfer to another city many hours away, and there was really no question of them moving with him. Most jobs I know of don’t really transfer people without them applying for that transfer, and people I know certainly haven’t left their families behind for an indeterminate amount of time. I think the explanation for this definitely made sense in context, but it really illustrated the cultural differences and norms.
I gave this book four stars. I enjoyed reading it and it was well written. It was also unique and a nice change from my typical reads with European and American settings. I would definitely recommend reading this!