The Man Booker shortlisted author says the boundaries of African nations are arbitraryby Sameer Rahim / February 29, 2016 / Leave a comment
The Nigerian novelist Chigozie Obioma was as surprised as anyone when his first novel, The Fishermen, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize last year. “Nothing could have prepared me for that kind of attention,” he said, speaking down the phone from America, where he now lives. “It was a bit of a shock to me.” The 28-year-old was born in Akure, Nigeria and later spent time in Cyprus, where he began writing The Fishermen. The novel follows the fate of four brothers—the youngest nine, the eldest 15—growing up in 1990s Nigeria. When they defy their father’s wishes and go fishing in a local river, they encounter a madman who prophesies that the eldest brother will be killed by one of the others. This prophecy, redolent of classical and African myths, haunts the rest of the novel.
As well as drawing on myth, the novel is also grounded in everyday reality. The brothers play computer games such as Mortal Kombat, for example. I asked Obioma if he was deliberately trying to meld the mythical and the realistic. “Absolutely, yes,” he replied. “I consumed a lot of mythical books as a child, especially the works of Amos Tutuola and Chinua Achebe. Their books are great tragic novels… In creating The Fishermen, I wanted to have these qualities shine through. I also wanted to portray as honestly as possible what life was like in the 1990s. Those things were part of life at the time: playing video games, watching Hollywood movies.”