I decided to read An Orchestra of Minorities despite not enjoying The Fishermen, Obioma’s debut novel. Second chances are easy to give when you see potential in a writer’s work.
And that’s how we’re here. Reviewing Chigozie Obioma’s second novel. Also, it was my bookclub’s May pick. I will try to keep this as spoiler-free as I can because I’m a very nice person.
Essential Book Info
Category: Literary Fiction, Contemporary
Publisher: Little Brown
Published: January 2019
Length: 528 pages
“An Orchestra of Minorities” Blurb
Umuahia, Nigeria. Chinonso, a young poultry farmer, sees a woman attempting to jump to her death from a highway bridge. Horrified by her recklessness, Chinonso joins her on the roadside and hurls two of his most prized chickens into the water below to demonstrate the severity of the fall. The woman, Ndali, is moved by his sacrifice.
Bonded by this strange night on the bridge, Chinonso and Ndali fall in love. But Ndali is from a wealthy family, and when they officially object to the union because he is uneducated, Chinonso sells most of his possessions to attend a small college in Cyprus. Once in Cyprus, he discovers that all is not what it seems. Furious at a world which continues to relegate him to the sidelines, Chinonso gets further and further away from his dream, from Ndali and the place he called home.
Should You Bother Reading “An Orchestra of Minorities”?
I guess we will find out at the end this. First of all, let’s start with the glowing reviews that catfished me.
- “A modern take on Homer’s The Odyssey, this Nigerian love story is filled with plot twists that demonstrate the power of persistence.” -Essence
- “Destined to become a classic.” -HelloGiggles
- “An ambitious and immersive tale about love and sacrifice, told by an ancient spirit.” -Brit Bennett
- “Chigozie Obioma’s second novel is a rare treasure: a book that deepens the mystery of the human experience.” -Seattle Times
Pretty encouraging, right? I know and I went into this book extremely excited. It also helped that the cover was mesmerizing. I’m a sucker for pretty covers. I want to begin with what I enjoyed in An Orchestra of Minorities. It was the narration style. This story is told from the lead character’s Chi.
In Igbo cosmology, a Chi is a person’s guardian spirit bestowed on him at birth by God. And it is believed that your Chi is sort of like your wingman in the spirit world. When blessings are being shared, they’re supposed to be first on the queue, they should be able to help you avoid stupid accidents, etc.
I enjoyed this style of narration for the first fifty pages and after that, it became very monotonous and tiring to read. The Chi started to feel more like a self-righteous talkative than a guardian. I felt that if he had spent less time reporting his human to the gods, he might have been able to prevent a lot of things from happening.
Moving on to the human, Chinonso is the most annoying character I have ever read about and I have read some pretty shitty ones. I don’t know what the writer was trying to achieve with this character arc but I really hated him. I also didn’t like that the female lead, Ndali was so flat and underdeveloped. There was so much that could have been done with her to enrich the story.
If you’ve read The Fishermen, you have an idea of Obioma’s writing style. It’s unnecessarily tedious. I felt like I was trying to crack a lobster to get to the juicy flesh but unlike a lobster, An Orchestra of Minorities had broccoli inside its shell. It’s good for you and has its redeeming qualities but no one wants to eat a broccoli-ish flesh when they crack open a lobster. Do you get my point now?
I’m aware of this mammoth task that Obioma embarked on when writing this book but I’m not one to give out participation trophies. Chigozie Obioma has been hailed as the heir to Chinua Achebe and I really don’t see it. An Orchestra Of Minorities was a good attempt. And in the words of the legendary singer, Brandy, “almost doesn’t count.”
I would recommend this book to people who like extremely flowery language, I prefer fluidity so maybe it’s just not my kind of read. But it could be yours. Have you read the book? What did you think about it?
About The Author
Chigozie Obioma is winner of the inaugural Financial Times/Oppenheimer Funds Emerging Voices Award for Fiction; the NAACP Image Awards for Outstanding Literary Work – Debut Author; the Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction [Los Angeles Times Book Prizes]; it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2015, as well as for several other prizes in the UK and US. Obioma was named one of Foreign Policy magazine’s 100 Leading Global Thinkers.
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