Book Review: The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma.


Book Review: The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma.

In a small town in western Nigeria, four young brothers take advantage of their strict father’s absence from home to go fishing at a forbidden local river.

They encounter a dangerous local madman who predicts that the oldest boy will be killed by one of his brothers. This prophecy unleashes a tragic chain of events of almost mythic proportions.

Book Details

Literary awards

Booker Prize Nominee (2015)Guardian First Book Award Nominee (2015)Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Art Seidenbaum Award First Fiction (2015)Hurston/Wright Legacy Award Nominee for Debut Fiction (2016)Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Debut Goodreads Author (2015)NAACP Image Award for Debut Author (2016)FT/OppenheimerFunds Emerging Voices Award (2015)The Center for Fiction Nominee for Shortlist (2015)

Setting: Nigeria

Format: 297 pages, Hardcover

Published: April 14, 2015 by Little, Brown and Company

ISBN: 9780316338370 (ISBN10: 0316338370)

Language: English

My Review of The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma.

This is one of the books I enjoyed reading this February. It’s a story about four brothers; Ikenna, Obembe, Boja and Benjamin, and is told through the youngest brother’s perspective, Benjamin.

Set in the early nineties in South-western Nigeria, this novel reveals how a middle-class family will go from a regular one to a highly complicated and tragic one.

The story begins when the father of the brothers who work in the Central Bank of Nigeria gets transferred from the Akure branch to the Yola branch, and then things begin to fall apart the moment he leaves.

His wife who is strongly against the idea complains and laments that she won’t be able to cater for the boys by herself, and also take care of the two younger ones; David and Nkem.

But her husband wouldn’t hear of it. It’s just work, he would always visit during the weekends, and everything would be fine.

Book Review: The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma.

But the boys have a contradicting opinion as their mother. They are even happy their father, whom they fear so much, is leaving, and that means they now have the freedom of doing whatever they like, and indulge in whatever games they like, without the fear of being punished by their strict disciplinarian father.

But they would go from playing football with the children in the neighbouring compounds to going fishing in a dangerous river.

This particular river has been prohibited from visiting, as the government thinks it is too dangerous, but these boys mindlessly fish there every other day, blatantly ignoring the warnings of danger. And they carefully go about this business under their mother’s nose without her having an idea.

Book Review: The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma.

Things would go smoothly till the day they are found out by their neighbour who in turn reports to their mother, and when Abulu, the mad man gives them his prophecy. This prophetic message is the scissors that tears them apart.

Abulu reveals that one of them would be killed by a fishermen, and then they become mangled by fear. There are a lot of takeaways from this book. First is the issue of strict parenting.

Their father is a strict disciplinarian who does not ask nor listen to the opinion of anyone in his family, not even his wife. His commands are final, and no one gets a chance to air their views.

Book Review: The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma.

This particular characteristic of him makes his children see him as a sort of wicked god and then fear and avoid him like the plague.

If their father doesn’t punish them for every slight wrongdoing, if he is accommodating and loving, then they wouldn’t be scared to come to him, and confide in him.

But because of his strict nature, they are afraid, and never feel the need of confiding in him when they are losing it.

This is popular among most fathers who think it is the sole responsibility of the mothers to take care of the children while they work their asses off to make money.

The responsibility lies on both parents to love and take care of their children, else they fall apart. And when they do, no one gets to enjoy the money which they have worked so hard to make.

Their mother is not exempted from the blame. She too, is not as accommodating as she is supposed to be with her boys.

She also fears her husband, and take out the frustration of his autocracy on his sons, which is wrong. She does not even know her own children. She doesn’t know what they are capable of, and they live under the same roof.

Book Review: The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma.

She is more concerned with religious activities other than taking care of her sons, spending time with them and showing them love and affection.

She is supposed to instil the spirit of love and unity in them, but she does none of that. Instead she snaps at them at any slight opportunity, and leaves the boy to love and protect themselves by themselves.

Ikenna is one character I love so much because of his affection and seniority instincts over his brothers.

At such a young age of fourteen, he already knows he is supposed to take care of his younger brothers, and he accepts that responsibility in good faith. But there is only so much a young boy can take.

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Whenever the boys do any wrong deed, the father punishes them, but gives Ikenna the highest dose, because he is the eldest and so must know better. This is where African parents get it wrong.

The amount of responsibilities saddled on the first born children is quite overwhelming. These children are simply children irrespective of their position, and they deserve love and direction too.

Because Ikenna is constantly reminded that he is the eldest and need to take care of his younger ones, and therefore receives the most punishment, he deduces that he is hated by everyone in their family, and starts rebelling. And this is where the family starts falling apart.

Book Review: The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma.

Secondly, fear cripples the mind and is so disastrous. I think the mad man’s prophecy wouldn’t have come to pass if the brothers, especially Ikenna aren’t afraid. If they are loved properly at home, they would confide in their parents and handle the situation better.

There is no way the prophecy would have had any effect. But fear weakens you, it makes you feeble and numb, and then defeats you. Most times, it’s all in our heads. And if you read this book, you will discover how fear would wreck this beautiful family.

I think Obembe and Benjamin, the youngest ones, are the reflections of their older brothers. Because they are constantly been reminded to look up to their older brothers, they only sheepishly follow their footsteps even when they are in the wrong, without having minds of their own.

Book Review: The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma.

That is why when what happens will happen, Benjamin does not know what to do. Because he does not know he has a mind of his own, he won’t know that he has to think and make decisions by himself.

I love this book, its narration is flawless. And I learned a lot about MKO Abiola and the June 12 election crisis in Nigeria in 1993. But I think this story, especially the first half of it, drags too much and becomes boring most of the time. And I don’t like how quickly everything falls apart in the book.

Also I have never heard names like Obembe and Boja before, and I wonder how the author came up with that. And I listened to the audiobook version of the book, so the narrator didn’t do justice to the pronunciations, mostly the Igbo part.

This story is tragic, it will tear your heart in a way you won’t see coming. But it is a worthy and beautiful read, and I highly recommend it. I will rate it as 4.4/5. Have you read the book? What do you think about it? Please share your thoughts with me in the comment section.

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The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma.
The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma.

4 thoughts on “Book Review: The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma.”

  1. I agree with you on how firstborns shoulder more responsibility than their younger siblings. I think the book is such a good reflection on society, especially in places where everyone has to work to support their family. Thanks for sharing your review!


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