Books Reviews

Book Review: An Orchestra of Minorities By Chigozie Obioma

“Fear exists because of the presence of anxiety and anxiety because humans cannot see the future.”

What’s The Book About?

A contemporary twist on the Odyssey, An Orchestra of Minorities is narrated by the chi, or spirit of a young poultry farmer named Chinonso. His life is set off course when he sees a woman who is about to jump off a bridge. Horrified by her recklessness, he hurls two of his prized chickens off the bridge. The woman, Ndali, is stopped in her tracks.

Chinonso and Ndali fall in love but she is from an educated and wealthy family. When her family objects to the union on the grounds that he is not her social equal, he sells most of his possessions to attend college in Cyprus. But when he arrives in Cyprus, he discovers that he has been utterly duped by the young Nigerian who has made the arrangements for him. Penniless, homeless, we watch as he gets further and further away from his dream and from home.

The Review

My first impression of this book was that using the concept of the ‘chi’ as a narrator was genius and original! An Orchestra of Minorities leans heavily on Igbo cosmology to create an unfamiliar but exciting world for readers to delve into. The chi as the narrator makes readers aware from the first chapter that Nonso has committed a great evil. The act is unknown but the stage is set for his chi to defend him in front of God. From this point, there is a level of suspense and foreshadowing throughout that keeps the reader hooked. For anyone who has read ‘The Fishermen’ you will be familiar with Obioma’s disruptive narrative style and I genuinely wanted this book to take me on the same heart wrenching and suspenseful journey that the Fishermen did.

And it was successful for a couple of chapters. The initial interaction between Nonso and Ndali was well written with emotional intensity and Nonso’s humiliating interactions with Ndali’s wealthy and educated family had me sweating whilst reading the book.

‘Have you considered that my daughter here is a soon-to-be pharmacist?’ 

‘Yes, sir.’ 

‘Have you considered that she is now completing her bachelor’s in pharmacy and will proceed to do her MPhil in the UK?’ 

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Have you considered, young man, what kind of future you, an unschooled farmer, will have with her?’ 

(This dialogue in the book is a prompt for a short story writing competition that the author will be judging – make sure to enter!)

But eventually, the structural issues particularly relating to the pace and the density reduces the emotional impact of what could have been a page turner throughout.

So what did I love? 

Chigozie Obioma is a talented writer and writing that feels a bit like saying ‘water is wet’. The prose in the book is beautiful and the proverbs across it are equally thought-provoking. It’s a shame that the weakness of the book comes directly from its main strength. I’m going to be honest, there were various points where I thought the book could have done without the chi’s proverbial descriptions because it slowed down the pace. But thankfully the last third is brilliant as we see Nonso’s emotional turbulence in reconciling the sacrifice for the woman he loves and the possibility that it could have been in vain.

Other thoughts?

The crucial arc in the book is that Nonso is duped by his friend Jamike who offers him the promise of a better life in Cyprus through education. As much I hated his character, I found his development by the end quite fascinating. It’s definitely relevant considering the weekly conversations that’s happening about yahoo yahoo boys and the morality of their actions. Lastly, the concept of the chi as a guardian spirit in Igbo cosmology was quite eye opening for me as a Muslim and I’ll definitely be reading more into it.

Top Three Quotes

“In my many cycles of existence, I have come to understand that the things that happen to a man have already occurred long before in some subterranean realm, and that nothing in the universe is without precedent.”

“The great fathers speak of a man who is anxious and afraid as being in a fettered state: they say this because anxiety and fear rob a man of his peace. And a man without peace? Such a man, they say, is inwardly dead.”

“The conscience is your voice. The voice of God in the heart of men.”

Rating 

✯✯✯ – Hit and Miss

Guide to Book Review Rating
✯ – Meh
✯✯ – Read at your own risk
✯✯✯ – Hit and Miss
✯✯✯✯- Hooked
✯✯✯✯✯- Life Companion. Thank me later!

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