An Orchestra of Minorities


This is the first novel I've read by Chigozie Obioma, and to be honest I had a hard time getting through it. An Orchestra of Minorities (2019), shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, is the roughly 500-page story of a poultry farmer named Chinonso in Umuahia, Nigeria, narrated by this man's chi, or spirit. The chi, bereft of any wit or humor, recounts his host's woeful tale to other spirits (voiceless in the narrative) in presumably the oral tradition of Igbo myth.


Chinonso falls head over heels for Ndali after he deters her from jumping to her death. She's well-to-do, her family anyway, and he is not. And so to elevate his status for her and for her family, he sells his property and most of his belongings and puts all his eggs in one basket, so to speak, with the decision to invest everything in a higher education, for which his friend makes the monetary arrangements (tuition, board, etc.) in Cyprus. When he gets there, however, keen to hit the books, he realizes (after a looong while) that he has been scammed. Things turn worse for him, and worse, and then worse again, and I'll leave it at that so I don't give away the whole story.


The whole story, though, is long-winded. Around the end I wondered if it might've been more compelling had one or two hundred pages been cut from it. That said, Obioma is a talented writer capable of constructing powerful prose and images that stick to the reader's psyche. For that alone I'd give it three or maybe four stars out of five (whatever that means). But then the other problem I had with it is its doomed hero, who came across to me as ill-fated simply because he's a hopelessly naive loser. In short, I didn't like him, and spending so many pages with the guy and his mostly ineffectual (yet eloquent) guardian spirit was tedious for stretches of the novel. Maybe that was the chi's fault, I don't know.

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