book review : an orchestra of minorities by chigozie obioma

there is something to be said about how a book is displayed in a store. i walked into a bookshop and this thick book was stacked right at the top of others. i had never heard of the author before so i was not particularly drawn to the author but more to how big the book was. it is 512 pages of writing, i wondered what he could possibly have in this large book. so I started reading this epic. and epic it is…

i first read this as a love story – instead i was dragged through pages of pain, angst, anger, confusion, depression, frustration and occasional joy. i read this when I was not in a good mental space so i wonder if my reading of the characters is even fair.

the story is entirely narrated by Chinonso’s chi. Chinua Achebe describes a chi as – ” a person’s other identity in the spirit world- his spirit being complementing his terrestrial human being; for nothing can stand alone , there must always be another thing standing beside it.”

the story is set in Nigeria, and we are introduced to Chinonso by his guardian spirit -his chi. Chinonso is an uneducated poultry farmer. he rescues Ndali, a young pharmacy student from the other side of the rails as she attempts to end her life. their lives could not be more different, and of course there is fierce resistance from Ndali’s wealthy family when this love blossoms. in his rescue of her i found that he consumes her and loses all sense of self and wants to blur himself into her. in his quest to win her over, he takes off to Cyprus to further his studies so that he can become worthy of her family. in Cyprus he realises that he has been scammed and has lost everything he owns and his spiral begins.

his spiral to be fair truly began before he left Nigeria. the author has a great way of writing about a mentally ill person without it being outwardly obvious. you can choose to see Chinonso as a victim of circumstance or a person whose mental health was not at its best and was drawn into a horrible orchestrated scam or see him as a manipulator, narcissist, liar who can only see things from his view alone…

the story is long, heart wrenching, infuriating. the writing style is sublime and magical. i am glad i picked this book up. the author’s way of letting the reader live through Chinonso’s chi and at times Ndali’s is beyond amazing. it is mythical, it is disturbingly beautiful. it is a tale that speaks about Igbo cosmology and explains its richness and depth.

there is a separate story about poultry hence the title.. Nonso’s obsession with his poultry is featured throughout the story.

i highly recommend this book – my rating is a 9/10 mostly because of how voluminous it was.

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