Book Review: The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

Synopsis (from goodreads)

fishermenIn a Nigerian town in the mid 1990’s, four brothers encounter a madman whose mystic prophecy of violence threatens the core of their close-knit family. Told from the point of view of nine year old Benjamin, the youngest of four brothers, The Fishermen is the story of an unforgettable childhood in 1990s Nigeria, in the small town of Akure. When their strict father has to travel to a distant city for work, the brothers take advantage of his extended absence to skip school and go fishing. At the ominous, forbidden nearby river, they meet a dangerous local madman who persuades the oldest of the boys that he is destined to be killed by one of his siblings. What happens next is an almost mythic event whose impact-both tragic and redemptive-will transcend the lives and imaginations of its characters and its readers. Dazzling and viscerally powerful, The Fishermen never leaves Akure but the story it tells has enormous universal appeal. Seen through the prism of one family’s destiny, this is an essential novel about Africa with all of its contradictions—economic, political, and religious—and the epic beauty of its own culture. With this bold debut, Chigozie Obioma emerges as one of the most original new voices of modern African literature, echoing its older generation’s masterful storytelling with a contemporary fearlessness and purpose.

Review (no spoilers)

I don’t even know where to start. This book was quite something. It is really beautifully written. The vivid description took me right to Nigeria from the first page. The narrative about the Omi Ala, a mystic river worshiped by the people was so descriptive that I couldn’t picture it with its mystic powers that were  condemned by the Christian missionaries.

The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma is narrated through the voice of Benjamin Agwu who is one of the four older brothers in the family. Benjamin is only 9 years old but we get to experience everything through his eyes. Benjamin watches his family move from sanity and normalcy and spiral down to unimaginable tragedy.

I loved the Agwu family right from the start. The brothers were really close and quite endearing. I also liked the father. I chuckled each time he referred to people as ‘my friend’. It is so African and I know so many people who address people like that whenever they are angry, it is hilarious though when he refers to his family in that way. The strict family especially when it comes to education was relatable.

scared-gifAnd then it got dark…after the prophesy, everything seemed to go downhill. The events that took place were so shocking and scary that I had to stop reading the book at night. Seriously, it haunted my dreams. I kept dreading reading the book because I couldn’t bear the thought of anymore tragedies taking place. At the same time, I couldn’t wait to move forward and find out what happened next.


This book is dark, tragic but deeply moving. The young narrator will take you through his grief. I recommend The Fishermen to all fans of African Literature. West Africa has given the world so many wonderful writers such as Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka and Chimamanda Ngozi. Chigozie Obioma joins this league with this brilliant debut novel. If you also like mystery, mythological narration then this is the book for you.

The madman has entered our house with violence
Defiling our sacred grounds
Claiming the single truth of the universe
Bending down our high priests with iron
Ah! yes the children,
Who walked on our Forefathers’ graves
Shall be stricken with madness.
They shall grow the fangs of the lizard
They shall devour each other before our eyes
And by ancient command
It is forbidden to stop them!

– poem by Mazisi Kunene,
the epigraph to The Fishermen

About Chigozie Obioma

Chigoze-ObiomaChigozie Obioma was born in Akure, Nigeria. He was an OMI fellow at Ledig House, New York, and has won Hopwood Awards for fiction and poetry. His fiction has appeared in Virginia Quarterly review and Transition. He has lived in Nigeria, Cyprus, and Turkey and currently lives in the United States where he is a Helen Zell Fellow in creative writing at the University of Michigan.


11 thoughts on “Book Review: The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

    1. It is. My bookclub is reading it for this month too. I hope that you will enjoy it once you get to it,

    1. The Thing around your neck has been on my TBR. I hope you are enjoying it so far. The Fishermen is quite something. Can’t wait for members to read it.

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