Chigozie Obioma’s book, The Fishermen, is one of those novels that’s perfect for book groups or for individual reading, because you can feel through it, or think through it, or both. This compelling page-turner has characters that the reader will be emotionally invested in, but it’s also a novel that’s good for discussion for groups who want to take more time with the unpacking. It’s a good recommendation for the reader wanting a straightforward narrative, as well as the reader looking for symbolism, mythic undertones, and classic themes, all written with a fresh voice.
The story is set in 1990s Nigeria, and our narrator is Benjamin, one of four young brothers in a loving family. When their father’s job takes him to another city away from the family home, the brothers must navigate growing up and being young, with each other as role models. Their relationship with their mother is strong, and tender, but they want to grow up as much as they want her acceptance and affection. After a man in their town makes a prediction about their future, their love is tested—and there is a battle of wills, within and among the brothers, to see if the prophecy can be ignored.
Because the story is from a child’s point of view, you don’t need have any previous knowledge about Nigeria or the 1990s in order to enjoy the book. Some details of the story might inspire you to do more research, but all the reader needs to know is in the book. The author includes a few words of the vernacular languages, but the meanings of those words are clear from the context. The themes of the story would work whether the setting was Nigeria or Nebraska: how much we can love and despise our siblings, how mistakes made by the people we look up to can shake our security in the world, and how the sacrifices parents make for their children are often misunderstood by those children.
The Fishermen was shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize for Fiction, and received glowing reviews from the New York Times, here; and The Guardian, here; and from many other publications. The author is currently living in the United States and teaching at the University of Nebraska.