21 Nov / An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma [in Booklist]
The story seems familiarly simple. A man and a woman fall in love, but their happy-ever-after is fraught with obstacles. Yet nothing is quite that straightforward in Chigozie Obioma’s (The Fishermen, 2015) latest, starting with his narrator, who happens to be a 700-year-old chi (guardian spirit) who inhabits Chinonso, a young Nigerian poultry farmer more bonded to his fowl than any human companions.
Chinonso meets Ndali when he prevents her from committing suicide, but their relationship cannot survive her wealthy family’s rejection of Chinonso because of his humble circumstances. Determined to prove himself worthy, Chinonso sells everything he owns to pursue a university education in Cyprus, only to make the bleak discovery that he’s entrusted his future to a primary-school friend who has utterly betrayed him. His determination to return to Ndali is all that keeps him alive.
By having Chinonso’s chi serve as storyteller, Obioma alchemizes his contemporary love story into a mythic quest enhanced by Igbo cosmology, centuries of history revealed through glimpses of the chi’s past hosts, elements of autobiography conjuring Obioma’s own Cyprian education and his meeting a fellow Nigerian whose dire experiences initially sparked the novel. Magnificently multi-layered, Obioma’s sophomore title proves to be an Odyssean achievement.