Book Review: The Fishermen

Thursday 3 September 2015 by

The Fishermen, Chigozie Obioma, Pushkin Press, Reading, Book, OneThe Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

Published by One

In a small town in western Nigeria, four young brothers – the youngest is nine, the oldest fifteen – use their strict father’s absence from home to go fishing at a forbidden local river. They encounter a dangerous local madman who predicts that the oldest brother will be killed by another. This prophesy breaks their strong bond and unleashes a tragic chain of events of almost mythic proportions.

Passionate and bold, The Fishermen is a breathtakingly beautiful novel firmly rooted in the best of African storytelling.


Okay, that’s it folks. I think we’ve found our winner. The Fisherman is the next outing on the Man Booker longlist, and I’ll be honest, it is by far one of the best books I have ever read. Told from the perspective of Ben, the youngest of the four brothers, this story unravels quite unlike any other.

The thing that makes it so good is its voice. All the voices it encompasses, really. This is a powerful, visceral story told with rich, uncompromising language. The voice is so strong, you can almost hear it whispering to you. The language is both sparse and effusive, ranging from the voice of a young nine year old, to the wise fable of an older man. Ben is a Nick Carraway-type narrator – ever on the edge of the action – but is also deeply involved in its terrible conclusion.

There is a terrible sense of foreboding throughout, a gathering storm of events you are helpless to prevent. But there is also the kind of love that binds you – familial, never-ending, and yet all the more painful for it.

I can’t even begin to describe this novel. Each chapter follows its own parable, its own path, stitching together to finally make one whole. The story is unravelled before you, leaving you bitter with the agony of it and yet writhing with the joy of the experience. It is both brutal and gentle, the imagery so bright and stark it could almost be a film set.

One of my favourite characters, however, is Ben’s mother. She is passionate and compassionate, emotional and superstitious – clicking her fingers above her head to ward off curses, and adjusting her wrappa, she is a bright flame throughout the book. I am deeply in love with her. She is almost the hero of this story, more than Ben. She is the anchor that binds the story together, huge and ever present.

Obioma is doesn’t shy away from the brutal – his visceral descriptions lie side by side with his gentle narratives, describing a drowned body mere pages from likening one of the boys to a guileless sparrow. This book leaves you sated yet wanting more – the taste of it lingers and you crave it when it’s not there. I was swamped with emotion with this book, totally in thrall to it. I yearned for tube delays to give me a few extra minutes reading it, I stayed up late to try to finish it, I even dreamt about it.

There is an inconceivable delight in discovering a book like this one – one that is quite unlike any other. It will burn through your consciousness, leaving you raw and desperate for more. A phenomenal debut.

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