Welcome to my first TinyLetter: Chigozie Obioma book review edition

What to say? This is just one more social media experiment that has to be tried. And since I am returning to writing and book reviewing, what better medium to add some of my thoughts that don’t make the published review.

I hadn’t heard of Nigerian-born author Chigozie Obioma before I was assigned to review his debut novel, The Fishermen. I just know that Toronto Star had already listed as one to watch for this publishing season. Soon I found out that the New York Times reviewer Fiammetta Rocco had an grander idea.

In his exploration of the mysterious and the murderous, of the terrors that can take hold of the human mind, of the colors of life in Africa, with its vibrant fabrics and its trees laden with fruit, and most of all in his ability to create dramatic tension in this most human of African stories, ­Chigozie Obioma truly is the heir to ­Chinua Achebe.

Poor guy. Imagine being a new Canadian writer to be crowned as the next Margaret Atwood or Robertson Davies in their very first novel!

I don’t usually read other people’s reviews before I start mine, but since hers came out earlier shouting Achebe, it felt like the elephant in this reviewer’s room. Of course, it is too early to say he is the new Achebe despite their common Nigerian backgrounds, not when writers such as Teju Cole and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie are his contemporaries.

The Guardian took a different approach by having another Nigerian poet and author, Helon Habila, write about The Fishermen. He describes it as a “heartbreaking elegy to Nigeria’s promise.” His attempt to place Obioma is a bit more ambitious:

Like most classic African novels in the Achebe-Ngugi tradition, The Fishermen mixes the traditional English novel form with the oral storytelling tradition, dramatising the conflict between the traditional and the modern. But The Fishermen is also grounded in the Aristotelian concept of tragedy, which mostly goes: a good and noble-minded man shows hubris and is brought down by the gods for it.

This blurb alludes to another challenge I faced while writing the review. I didn’t want to highlight the importance of an African “oral story-telling tradition.” It felt too easy a way describe a style that was so definitely “written.” Obioma has an MFA from the US while “the West” still has oral tradition such as campfire ghost stories. We just have forgotten to classify our versions. That’s why I felt like it was a rather cliched way to describe a novel. And cliches irk me.Well, bet you didn’t expect this to be a review of reviews! Sometimes I feel this should be part a general discussion in the arts, the way we have learned to read and comment on films. Anyways, it’s a tiny thought. Perfect for my first TinyLetter.

See you soon and share with this with folks who you think may be interested! The next one will be on my upcoming review of Amitav Ghosh‘s Flood of Fire, the last book in the Ibis Trilogy. And I hope to hear from you. And visit https://tinyletter.com/PialiRoy to subscribe! You will get these blog posts first.

Cheers,
Piali
Twitter: @pialiroy

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