In the mid-1990s in Akure, Nigeria, 9-year-old Benjamin lives with his 3 older brothers, 2 younger siblings, and his parents. Their lives are going smoothly enough until their father is transferred to another city for his job at the national bank. He doesn’t want to uproot the family, so they stay in their home, and the boys develop a love for fishing at the local river. One day, a local mentally-ill homeless man, who some consider a prophet, predicts that the oldest brother will be killed by one of his siblings. This prophecy destabilizes the family as the oldest brother becomes paranoid and withdrawn and his mother and younger siblings are hurt and confused by his rejection of them.
But is the prophecy true?
This excellent debut novel, which was released last year, was recommended to me by my boss, Julie. (Thanks for the wonderful suggestion, Julie!)
There were a lot of things I liked about this book, but the primary one was definitely the story, which is haunting and raises a lot of thought-provoking questions about the idea of fate. On the book’s cover, the story of Cain and Abel comes up in comparison, but if you think you know where this story is going based on that, you will be mistaken. I really enjoyed the twists and turns the story took. I did make a couple of predictions that ended up being true, but there were also several plot developments that took me by surprise.
Equally enjoyable were the believable characters. I thought author Chigozie Obioma did a great job of developing realistic family dynamics and sibling relationships throughout the book, and that was another one of my favorite things about this novel.
Those dynamics also lend a universality to the plot, which is supplemented by the vivid setting. Though the family drama is the central focus, the novel is set against the backdrop of Nigeria’s political turmoil in the 1990s, which is probably unfamiliar for a lot of American readers. However, Obioma provides enough context that the political events are interesting and easy to follow, and the book is an evocative depiction of its time and place.
In addition, Obioma has a lovely, lyrical writing style. Really, I would classify this book as a literary thriller or a literary psychological drama. It has the suspense and quick pacing of the thriller genre but also the emphasis on characterization and style that defines literary fiction.
Recommended for those who enjoyed Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus and Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland.
To learn more about this book or place a hold on it, follow the link to our online library catalog.
Have you read this book? What’s your favorite novel set in Africa? What’s your favorite book about family drama? Tell us in the comments!