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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

News from Nigeria: New writer Chigozie Obioma

Started reading Chigozie Obioma's The Fishermen - he's a late 20s writer, first novel, born in Nigeria, now lives in U.S. and writes in English, clearly off to a great start on a literary career - only a few chapters in so far too early to really assess this novel though first impressions are the Obioma has a clear style with a fine literary flourishes, he writes in the realistic tradition and has a good sense of character, setting the situation up quickly and efficiently: narrator is a 20-something man, Ben, looking back on his childhood in Nigeria, in a small city or town, the 4th child in a family of 6, with three older bros., story begins as the father is transferred in his banking job a remote northern city - family unwilling or unable to move (city he's going to is full of ethnic violence and may not be safe) so he goes north alone, returning for weekend visits every 2 weeks or so. This leaves the 4 boys somewhat at loose ends - father is very strict and drives home importance of education, discipline, honesty. The boys disobey family rules and fish at a dangerous river spot; father punishes (whips) them on one of his returns, and urges them to become "fishers of men" - esp the oldest of the brothers, Ike. OK, if you didn't get the religio-allegorical overtones from the title you should have them by now: the father a "disappearing" Old Testament god, the boys various the disciples, Joseph and his brothers, or (as a jacket blurb, which I usually try never to read says), Cain & Abel. We'll see how well Obioma can work this theme. Obviously, one of the reasons American readers may be drawn to this novel is that it brings news from afar - about daily life in near-contemporary Africa. Reading novels like this I often ask myself: how would it stand up if these boys were living in, say, rural Iowa rather than small-city Nigeria? Writers who can draw from their unusual life experiences may be at advantage - at least initially - but they have a high barrier to overcome as well - introducing us to the unfamiliar, without overwhelming us and putting readers off with extensive exoticism and obscurity.

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