Thursday, 30 January 2020

An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

Nonso is a Nigerian poultry farmer, living alone, still grieving the death of his father. One day, returning from market, where he has bought some new hens and a fine white cockerel, he saves the life a woman who appears on the verge of throwing herself from a bridge. Months later, he runs into her again, at a petrol station. They fall in love, but the social gulf between them places an impossible burden on his shoulders and leads him to choices that will have terrible consequences.

An Orchestra of Minorities is rooted deep in Igbo cosmology. The narrator is Nonso’s chi, or spirit – closer perhaps to what Europeans might term a guardian angel, but dwelling within the person rather than watching over them from on high. He recounts the story of Nonso’s life – testifying to the great celestial court of Bechukwu.

The chi has passed through many human lifetimes, which allows him to refer to things far beyond Nonso’s knowledge - such as slavery - and also to the values of traditional Igbo society, that are being overrun by the values of the White Man.

“It is the White Man who has trampled on your traditions. It is he who has seduced the slept with your ancestral spirits. It is to him that the gods of your land have submitted their hears, and he has shaved them clean, down to the skin of their scalps ... He has spat in the face of your wisdoms, and your valiant mythologies are silent before him.”

The Orchestra of Minorities in the title describes the mournful crying of the hens when one of their flock has been snatched by the hawk. Yet his lover, Ndali, is quick to draw parallels to how the powerful exploit the weak.

“They were the minorities of this world whose only recourse was to join this universal orchestra in which all there was to do was cry and wail.”
Nonso is a punchbag to the whole world, suffering blow after blow, indignity after indignity, until he can take no more - which is what has led his chi to plead for him in the celestial court.

Obioma’s language is full of poetic richness while at the same time being grounded in day to day realities – from Nonso’s brutal reaction to an attacking hawk to his worries about dirty clothes and dirty dishes when Ndali first comes to visit.

Shortlisted for the 2019 Man Booker Prize.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Avoid If You Dislike: Stories with a supernatural element

Perfect Accompaniment: Ugba (traditional Igbo dish)

Genre: Literary Fiction

Buy This Book Here

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