Literati welcomes debut novelist Chigozie Obioma for reading

By Cosmo Pappas, Daily Arts Writer
Published April 12, 2015

Sitting at Division St. and Washington St., Literati Bookstore has taken great effort to provide the infrastructure for a thriving literary culture in Ann Arbor. This Tuesday, they will welcome debut novelist Chigozie Obioma through their “Fiction at Literati” series, the complement to their “Poetry at Literati” series. A Helen Zell Fellow of Creative Writing, Obioma was born in Nigeria, studied in Cyprus and lived in Turkey. Obioma will give a reading to commemorate his first novel, “The Fishermen,” to be released through Little, Brown and Company the same day.

Chigozie Obioma Readings

April 14, 7pm
Literati Bookstore

“I wanted to write this story, I was inspired to write this story about a close-knit family,” Obioma said in an interview with The Michigan Daily. “What is it that can come between them and bring destruction and destroy the unity of the family? And not just a family, but any entity at all.”

Obioma’s novel is, as Helon Habila of The Guardian describes in his review of the book, “a Bildungsroman,” a coming-of-age story. The four brothers in the novel must navigate their lives after their father departs for a job transfer. They pick up fishing as they lose their sense of routine in the absence of their father’s disciplinary guidance. But shortly after being “discovered by their neighbor who tells their mother,” “they meet the local oddball, Abulu, who has the power of prophecy, and who predicts that Ikenna, the oldest, will be killed by one of his brothers: a fisherman,” Habila says. “It is from this simple, almost mythological conceit that Chigozie Obioma’s debut novel grows, gaining complexity and power as it rises to its heartbreaking climax.”

“The Fishermen” has been received positively for the ways that it balances many different projects. Describing the book as one that works with elements of “the traditional English novel form with the oral storytelling tradition” against an Aristotelian tragic arc, Habila celebrates the parallel dramas of Obioma’s book.

Obioma described his interest in “parallel universes” and the way that “human beings (exist) at the same time as spirits and these ethereal creatures.”

Habila reads Obioma’s novel both as a Bildungsroman and as a sort of allegory of the post-independence history of Nigeria. Obioma seeks out this “both-and” play of narrative in both form and content, citing influences as diverse as Greek myth and epic, Arundhati Roy, Thomas Hardy, William Shakespeare, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Günter Grass and Chinua Achebe. Obioma looks to Achebe (1930-2013), the late preeminent Nigerian writer and one of the most significant and widely read writers from Africa, as a writer from whom he learns about Igbo (a major ethnic group of Nigeria) traditions, philosophies and history.

“What I have always been afraid of is people reading this book because they feel it is exotic to them, and content trumping form, you know, the beauty of writing,” Obioma said. “Largely, even in the translated form, in German, one thing everyone has unanimously agreed on is the beauty of the prose, and that is the aesthetics, the art of the book, which gives me joy because now somebody cannot say, ‘Oh, I am reading this one to understand Africa because I want to.’ You know, this is not why we read, that is not why I read.”

Join Obioma this Tuesday in the Espresso Bar on the second floor of Literati to hear selections from his novel and his thoughts on his well-received, successful debut.

For curious readers, the first chapter of “The Fishermen” is available for free here.