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Diving Deep Into 'The Fishermen' by Chigozie Obioma

A Review of the Gripping Tale of Belief, Fear & Family.

Once upon a time, in a land where tales and myths were born. Where secrets were whispered like flames flickering in the darkness.

A place where shame would droop over you like a dark, heavy thundercloud. A town where reputation is king. We begin our eventful journey in Akure set in 1990s Nigeria with an Igbo family.

Family relationships can sometimes be turbulent and emotionally charged, however, family remains a core foundation for many. The deep-rooted love and loyalty run in our veins forming a central part of our identities. This story is narrated from the lens of the youngest brother of a family, which I feel gives the story a level of child-like innocence, naivety and vulnerability. As the oldest sibling in my African family, it was interesting to step into the younger sibling's shoes and understand more about the privileges and pressures of this role.

When a Father relocates for work, the brothers rebel by visiting a forbidden river in an attempt to fish. Why do such a thing? But in the same breath, why not? Who hasn't engaged in a bit of sibling rebellion in the name of having fun, and experiencing the seemingly sweet rush of adrenaline?

During their visit, they run into a "madman", Abulu, who prophesied that a brother will kill one of their brothers. Extreme? But I mean, can we trust the words uttered from the tongue of someone who is regarded as highly unstable?

Obioma's suspenseful story is intentionally crafted to tell a deep, meaningful tale swimming in symbolism and illustrated with vivid descriptions. It's submerged in folkloric and mythological-style elements and dives into themes such as sibling loyalty, family, pain, revenge, redemption and fear.

Additionally, I observed underlying psychological elements. It felt like there was an ironic battle of who was truly 'mad', whether it was the so-called "madman" or the people? At times the narrative even blurred the line between the juxtaposition of madness and sanity. I observed closely a dissection into the experience and attitudes towards mental illness, which was interesting to see especially in an environment where it's often stigmatised. There appeared to be a tug-of-war between the conflicting elements of superstition and religion. It made me question whether fear itself could be a driver of the psychological phenomenon called the 'confirmation bias.' Some elements of this story remain ambiguous and mysterious but this isn't uncommon in folklore. I think it can mirror life as many things ignite our curiosity but remain unexplained with our limited human understanding.

My favourite quote was:

"I have now come to know that what one believes often becomes permanent, and what becomes permanent can be indestructible" - as it articulates the immense power of belief and how it can work in our favour or perhaps blind us from nuanced perspectives.

I regard this as a coming-of-age classic and I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys literary fiction, wants to experience an abundance of culture and go on a complex emotional rollercoaster.


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