Nigeria’s debut novel Chigozie Obioma is a classic case of a book written for a specific task: the author obviously wanted to enter the short list of the Booker Prize for the quota for writers from the Commonwealth countries and brilliantly succeeded (“The Fishermen” was called one of the main contenders for the 2015). As a result, the Obioma book has all the advantages and disadvantages of an exemplary “premium” novel: secondary and predictable (we have all read this many times, sometimes with a more talented performance), sincere and deep anguish, charming local flavor and a clear political message. In short, if you have already read “Half of a Yellow Sun” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “The God of Small Things” by Arundhati Roy, “The Inheritance of Loss” by Kiran Desai and “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe, then In general, there are not so many discoveries waiting for you in The Fishermen. However, this does not mean that they will not exist at all: Obioma should include his ability to fill the plot of provincial Nigerian life with the high pathos of the ancient Greek tragedy as Obioma’s unconditional success.
After the departure of his father, transferred to work in another city, his four sons (the eldest is fifteen, the youngest is nine) gradually go astray. They begin to skip school, start dubious acquaintances with hooligans from urban suburbs, but most importantly – they decide to become a fisherman. For six weeks, risking their lives, they will delight in fishing on a dangerous and fast local river, as long as a casual witness does not inform the mother of their adventures, and she does not veto sons’ fun. However, these six weeks are enough to destroy the peaceful and prosperous family life: met on the riverbank city crazy Abulu manages to convince the eldest of the brothers, Ikenna, that in the near future, someone from the younger ones will kill him. Little by little, this is absurd and, in general, the unsubstantiated prediction overgrows with flesh, is filled with misfortune and acquires a formidable power over the minds and souls of the heroes. Like the prophecy of the Delphic oracle, which predicted Oedipus a cruel fate, the prophecy of Abulu becomes an instrument of merciless rock, and the reader is doomed helplessly to watch how kindred ties break, and betrayal, envy and enmity are settled under family shelter. The backdrop for the heartbreaking family drama – and the counterpoint to it – is political turbulence in connection with the upcoming elections, with which the characters associate bright (and, of course, futile) hopes.
Even in this brief retelling, it can be easily noted that “The Fishermen” are assembled from good, passed, what is called, time-tested details of the postcolonial literary “lego”, to be faithful to the modern “storytelling” and “creative writing” planted on the superglue. However, rootedness in the powerful and original Nigerian literary tradition (few people remember, but Ben Okri, Amos Tutuola, and Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka, and Ngozi Adichie and Chinua Achebe already mentioned — all come from Nigeria) avoids absolutely obvious moves . The elements of magical realism, appropriately embedded in the text, relieve the novel from a flat and dull unambiguity, and a smooth but irresistible narrative rhythm, which is tangible even through the translation, works reliably, so that in the final the heart aches for real. And in the nose, by the way, it also tweaks pretty.