What first drew me to Chigozie Obioma’s “The Fishermen” was its setting; Akure, my town of birth and residence. Starting the book revealed that it was not only set in Akure, but also sub-set in Araromi; where we moved to in 1996. I was in familiar terrain. I found myself using our bungalow in the woods (subject of my poem “Araromi” which appeared in Israeli journal; “Ilanot Review’’ ‘s recently released “Theft” Issue. Read here) to visualize the scenes. As a result of this familiarity with both the setting and the daily frictions with brothers and parents, I was filled with a deep sense of nostalgia for those years of childhood. This feeling of nostalgia was preserved from the first page of the book, detailing a small map of the relevant parts of Akure, to its last page.
“The Fishermen” is an account of events that led up to and followed the chance meeting of Ben Agwu; the narrator, his brothers and friends with Abulu, a mad man who sometimes took on the persona of a prophet-of-doom. Abulu called out to Ikenna, the eldest of the brothers who had just adopted fishing as a pastime after their strict father, a federal civil servant, was transferred to distant Yobe. Ikenna, against all calls by his fellow “Fishermen” to run away stood by to listen to Abulu’s prophecy. The prophecy marked the turning point in their otherwise peaceful lives.
Ikenna spent the rest of his life trying to avoid the prophecy that a fisherman, who he presumed to be Boja; his brother, would kill him. In trying to avoid this terrible fate, he sealed it. The death of Ikenna, after all his fear-driven efforts, is an affirmation of the words of Master Oogway, fictional character in popular animation “Kung fu Panda”: “We often meet our destinies on the way we take to avoid it”. The motif is also reminiscent of the situation in Sophocles’ great Greek tragedy “Oedipus Rex” and in Ola Rotimi’s adaptation, “The gods are not to blame”.
The author uses Ben, the fourth of the brothers, to narrate the story and he starts each chapter with a bold metaphor in which he mostly likened characters to animals (Ben being a lover of animals). In proving the truth behind each metaphor, the narrator gently teased out the story while reinforcing the metaphor. About halfway through the book, Ikenna is killed by his brother, Boja, who then commits suicide. I looked at the still unread pages and wondered what greater tragedy lay ahead. I thus went through the rest of the story steeling myself in anticipation of a more tragic eventuality.
The book revealed a multiplicity of culpability. Adaku, the mother, blamed Mr. Agwu for not taking the whole family along. Solomon, a friend that accompanied them to Omi-Ala deserved a slice of the blame, Ikenna for waiting to hear the curse and Obembe who heard the most damning part of the curse over the noise of aircraft also deserve slices. Perhaps unfairly, Abulu, clearly not in control of his actions, was deemed the most culpable and became the target of vengeful plans. Mr Agwu got a cataract for his attempt. Ben and Obembe, who succeeded, got a prison sentence and a fear-imposed exile respectively. The story ends with a semblance of happiness, a discounted happiness.