The family life of ten-year-old Ben begins to disintegrate when his father, a bank employee, is transferred to a town in a dangerous area of Western Nigeria. Ben and his three older brothers begin fishing in a forbidden river. About the time they get into trouble for that, Abulu, a madman who makes prophecies known to become true, makes one about Ikenna, Ben’s oldest brother. It is that Ikenna will be killed by a fisherman.
Ikenna becomes convinced that his brother Boja is going to kill him, even though the two have always been close. His attitude toward his family changes. He becomes angry, disrespectful toward his parents, and solitary. He locks himself into the room that he shares with Boja, only letting him in when he is out of it. Eventually, there is a shocking crisis.
I know a lot of people have liked this book, which I read for my Booker Prize project, but it didn’t do much for me. Most interesting about it was the background of Nigerian home life and customs, but these are not ours, and what, for example, might be called strictness in Nigeria is for us child abuse. Let me just say that for a novel about four brothers not set in wartime, this novel is extremely violent, graphic, and even at times amoral.
Then there is Obioma’s writing, which I found immature. A lot has been made of his unusual metaphors, but many of them don’t work very well or are just plain awkward. Occasionally, he uses the wrong word, like “haul” instead of “throw,” unless perhaps that is some kind of idiom I’m unaware of. He also loves to use polysyllabic words instead of simple ones, giving an overblown effect to his writing.
I didn’t notice some of these faults in his subsequent novel, but instead in that one I noticed lots of misogyny. I’m not proving to be an Obioma fan.