04 February 2019

Review: An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma

An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma book cover
* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

Many of you will remember that The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma was one of my favourite books in 2015 and I couldn't stop talking about it. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and I was disappointed when it didn't win. Since then, Chigozie Obioma has been busy writing An Orchestra of Minorities and you can imagine how excited I was to read this; just holding it filled me with giddy anticipation.

Our main character Chinonso is a young poultry farmer living in Nigeria and his story is narrated by his chi or guardian spirit. The novel is bursting with Igbo cosmology and Chinonso's chi has come to plead the case of his host before 
Chukwu, Creator of All at the magnificent court of Bechukwu, in Eluigwe. In telling his host's story to the court, we learn about Chinonso and the foreshadowing that his life is about to undertake a tragic turn.

Chinonso is a poor farmer and after thwarting Ndali's suicide attempt, they fall in love. Ndali is educated and from the upper classes and her family vehemently oppose the match. This is a powerful story of love, heartache, misfortune and tragedy and covers a multitude of topics, including the westernisation of Nigeria, the disparity between classes, the notions of revenge and forgiveness and the complexities of love.

The entire book is narrated by Chinonso’s chi, who is testifying to the ‘elders/spirits’ on behalf of his host because of a crime he may have committed. The chi goes into great detail to paint the picture leading up to the event, however by the end of the book we’re left completely hanging. We learn about the event that was foreshadowed early in the book, however we never learn the outcome for Ndali or Chinonso.

What I found even more baffling is that we never hear a response from the court of elder spirits to the testimony provided by Chinonso's chi. There is no judgement - or response - provided at all. Given the chi’s testimony (the book) goes into so much detail about Chinonso’s life, to have the entire situation completely unresolved at the end of 500+ pages was quite a shock.

In fact, I was so rattled that I asked the publisher if I was missing something, or if there was going to be a sequel. I received the following info which I think is worth sharing here: It is purposefully ambiguous and intended to play upon the reader’s mind. Fiction, much like life, has no easy, neat and tidy, resolution.

I understand messy and ambiguous endings, but this story was cut short before we found out where it was going to end up. I was looking forward to the wisdom of the elder spirits and Chukwu, but sadly this never came.

Ultimately, An Orchestra of Minorities was just too open-ended for me and the lack of a conclusion greatly affected what had been a 4 or 5 star read until that point.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

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