cover image An Orchestra of Minorities

An Orchestra of Minorities

Chigozie Obioma. Little, Brown, $27 (464p) ISBN 978-0-316-41239-1

Set in Umuahia, Nigeria, Man Booker finalist Obioma’s unforgettable second novel (after The Fishermen) follows the saga of Chinonso, a young and doomed poultry farmer. The story is narrated by Chinonso’s chi, the guardian spirit that bridges humans and the divine in Igbo cosmology; this narrator functions as both advocate and Greek chorus in the tragedy that unfolds. Orphaned and broken by his father’s death, Chinonso spends his life in isolation caring for his beloved chickens, until he sees a woman preparing to jump to her death off a bridge. She turns out to be Ndali, the daughter of a prominent local family. Suicidal in the wake of a broken engagement, Ndali is drawn to Chinonso’s fierce protectiveness of his flock, seeing in him a steadiness and resoluteness of character, but she’s blind to the anger and sorrow at his core. The two quickly fall in love, despite her family’s mounting objections. In a bid to win their approval, Chinonso takes up an old acquaintance on the offer of university education in Cyprus, selling his family’s property and possessions to pay for it. The con is painful and clear as day; Chinonso is robbed blind and left stranded in an alien land. After he meets a sympathetic nurse, a moment of violence lands Chinonso in jail, where he must bide his time—still burning with a violent determination to reclaim the life he lost and punish those responsible. Obioma’s novel is electrifying, a meticulously crafted character drama told with emotional intensity. His invention, combining Igbo folklore and Greek tragedy in the context of modern Nigeria, makes for a rich, enchanting experience. (Jan.)