Obioma: Art endures, propaganda doesn’t

Obioma: Art endures, propaganda doesn’t

In An Orchestra of Minorities, the narrator speaks of “the land of lack, of man-pass-man, the land in which a man’s greatest enemies are members of his household; a land of kidnappers, of ritual killers, of policemen who bully those they encounter on the road and shoot those who don’t bribe them, of leaders who treat those they lead with contempt and rob them of their commonwealth, of frequent riots and crisis, of long strikes, of petrol shortages, of joblessness, of clogged gutters, of potholed roads…and of constant power outages”. Associate Editor Olukorede Yishau spends time with the 33-year-old author, Chigozie Obioma, in Lagos:

Chigozie Obioma, author of the Booker Prize shortlisted The Fishermen and the wave-making An Orchestra of Minorities, has a problem: He hates telling stories the traditional way. This problem led Obioma, who is an Assistant Professor at the University of Lincoln-Nebraska, to write an over 500-page long novel in which the narrator is the chi, the guiding spirit in Igbo cosmology. “I don’t like to tell stories in a traditional way so I am always thinking of an invention,” he says in a restaurant in Ogudu-GRA, Lagos.

The chi tells us the story of Nonso, a poultry farmer, and Ndali— set largely in Umuahia, slightly in Lagos and Abuja, and a lot in Cyprus. Nonso, a 24-year-old lonely orphan, sees Ndali trying to jump off a bridge into water. He persuades her against it. To show how painful it will be, he flings two of his prized fowls into the water. She rescinds her decision and both of them go their separate ways. They run into each other months later. Ndali feels she owes him her life. He is to find out that heartbreak was responsible for her attempted suicide. A relationship soon starts and before long, Nonso feels like marrying Ndali and tells her his plan. And then begins the real drama of their lives.

Ndali’s father is rich, stupendously rich, and finds it difficult to accept an illiterate poultry farmer as son-in-law. Through Ndali’s brother, Chuka, Nonso is humiliated a couple of times. The humiliation gets him thinking and talking with Ndali and a friend, Elochukwu, and in the long run, he discovers that getting an education may swing things in his favour. Another dilemma sets in: with universities in Nigeria ever on strike, he wonders how many years it will take to complete a degree. Still, he picks the matriculation form, but soon opts for selling his valuables and heading abroad for studies. Everything appears set until he gets to Cyprus and discovers he has been scammed.

Cyprus turns out hellish. Passers-by call him “slave”. He is mistaken for the Brazilian football star Ronaldinho, and the jealous husband of an expatriate nurse from Germany who helps him turns things upside down. He turns out one of the minorities in faraway land and his shouts for help or his cries for bailout sound more like an orchestra without efficacious power. Returning home only aggravates things. And a lot more sad events follow!


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