(Sidharth Vardhan’s review of
of Chigozie Obiomo’s ‘An Orchestra of Minorities’
The book was first published in 2019
Review first published on December 8, 2019
Bookker list shortlisted in 2019
(3 / 5) )
An Orchestra of Minorities is about the life of a troubled young poultry farmer who sacrifices everything to win the woman he loves. Set between Nigeria and Cyprus, according to Little, Brown it is “a modern epic of Igbo civilisation”, dealing with myth, spirituality, life, death, obsession and ownership. It can also be read as a parable about a civilisation lurching towards modernity, sometimes at the cost of abandoning the wisdom of elders.
It really had an idea of great potential with the concept of narration by Chi – the guardian angel which accompanies all humans according to Igbo mythology. The relation between a Chi and his host could have been really strong – like that of ego and superego, or conscious and unconscious, etc or even romantic notion that a person is never really alone. Instead, we have nothing so subtle here. The relation seemed to built at random. Chi ironically could be eliminated from the story without affecting the events of his host at all because he never really manages to ‘guard’ him into better sense.
Igbo Mythology described in the book though with artistic liberty still formed most of what was best in the book.
The story itself is a love story and not a particularly strong one at that. And Obioma seems to have a bad habit of inserting unnecessary details and explanations which seem to slow the book down and won’t let the tension build. Igbo culture has people using proverbs a lot when trying to be eloquent, but there were so many instances when metaphorical examples given by Chi to talk about emotion seemed too obscure and unnecessary. There are little things that Chi says which his listener probably would already have known and so detailing them was neither realist nor good to aesthetic of the book. The book could have been cut into half and would have been better for it.
Even the ending though delayed by at least a couple of unnecessary chapters seemed to me inadequate – especially given the fact that story is being narrated as a defense by a Chi and such a defense probably won’t end in mid-scene.