After my favorite author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie mentioned in an interview that she had really liked this debut novel by Chigozie Obioma, I knew I had to get my hands on it stat. Chimamanda had after all reignited my love for African literature, one of the indispensable platforms which allows us as Africans to tell our own narratives. The only problem, however, was that the book wasn’t due to be released until many months down the line. Almost a year later, I finally got my hands on it and I want to share my thoughts on it with you; spoiler alert I cried.
Weeks after reading it, the story has stayed with me and I can say that I share Chimamanda’s sentiments. The story follows four close brothers, Ikenna aged 15, Boja 14, Obembe 11 and Ben 9 growing up in Akure, a small town in Western Nigeria whose lives are forever changed after the local mad man, Abulu, makes a haunting prophecy that one of the boys would kill the oldest brother. From reading the excerpt behind the book as well as the very first page, an immediate sense of impending doom was eloquently conveyed but I could have never imagined the extent to which this would occur.
“Hatred is a leech: The thing that sticks to a person’s skin; that feeds off them and drains the sap out of one’s spirit. It changes a person, and does not leave until it has sucked the last drop of peace from them.”
― Chigozie Obioma, The Fishermen
As the story is told through Ben the youngest’s POV, we really experience the frantic and helplessness he feels as his family is slowly torn apart with him unable to stop it. There were so many issues and angles explored in this book but the resounding question I kept asking myself was “how could what a mentally deranged man say change the close bond these brothers share and subsequently cause such unending tragedies?”. Psychology 101 in college taught me that there was an answering theory to this question that I couldn’t readily recall but luckily Google came to the rescue with it; the self-fulfilling prophecy.
Robert K. Merton, a 20th century American sociologist, coined this term and further developed the concept to apply to relevant social phenomenon. So what exactly does this mean? In simple terms, our dear friends at Wikipedia explain that this concept is what happens when “a positive or negative prophecy, strongly held belief, or delusion—declared as truth when it is actually false—may sufficiently influence people so that their reactions ultimately fulfill the once-false prophecy”. What this theory relies on is how the message is perceived, the importance attached to it as well as the positive feedback relationship between our beliefs and behavior. In this case, the whole town’s superstitious tendencies, very much like the one I grew up in, and their elevation of the madman, Abulu, as a ‘prophet’ set the stage for Ikenna to hold his word as truth.
“The prophecy, like an angered beast, had gone berserk and was destroying his mind with the ferocity of madness . . . until all that he knew, all that was him, all that had become him was left in disarray. To my brother, Ikenna, the fear of death as prophesied by Abulu had become palpable, a caged world within which he was irretrievably trapped, and beyond which nothing else existed.”
― Chigozie Obioma, The Fishermen
I so desperately wish that he could have confided and processed this information with his parents or an elderly figure he trusted in his life who could have reassured him and allayed his fears but then again I can count on my hand how many friends growing up had the luxury of such intimate relationships. Once that seed was planted in Ikenna’s mind, his wrongful fear at what the future held for him as well as his misplaced anger at his siblings caused his ensuing metamorphosis that set everything in motion.
However, I wonder if the same reaction would have been garnered had Abulu spoken something positive. Would Ikenna’s behavior have been readily changed to ultimately confirm such a positive proclamation about the future? Something tells me that the likelihood of that is a bit lower which makes me question why negative information most often than not holds such a hypnotic power over us. Over a month later, I don’t think that I still have a good answer to this question.
Without giving too much away, I’ll say that by the end of the book, I cried at all the tragedy that had marked these boys at such a young age, taken away the care-free childhood they should have fondly looked back on and all the years they were robbed of. I felt so heartbroken about the seemingly unending storm that the whole family had endured. The level of emotion I’m still filled with at this novel illustrates the wonderful job that Chigozie Obioma did with his debut work.
Having said all that, I will have to say that I wasn’t the biggest fan of his writing style. I appreciated the effort spent in describing various back stories meant to develop and flesh out the characters but I grew tired of it quickly because I wanted the plot to just move forward! If you’re way more patient than I am though, this will likely not be an issue. Overall, I’d recommend this book as a great choice to sink your teeth into this summer. If any of you guys have already read this book, what are your thoughts and reactions? Let me know in the comments down below!