Book Review: ‘An Orchestra of Minorities’ by Chigozie Obioma

higozie Obioma’s latest book ‘An Orchestra of Minorities’ has changed the world of storytelling for me.

The book focuses on Chinonso, a poor poultry farmer, and Ndali, a woman who we first encounter when she tries to commit suicide and who comes from a wealthy Nigerian family. The story is mostly set in Umuahia, Nigeria, and Chigozie Obioma’s storytelling and literary prowess will sweep you off your feet, out of your present-day reality and into the wondrous, chaotic, hot, and magical world of Chinonso and Ndali.

‘An Orchestra of Minorities’ combines and reflects both the tales we already know, such as The Odyssey, and great Igbo traditions and stories that some of us may not be so familiar with. While I was listening to the audiobook version of the book, I kept envisioning Igbo elders recounting this story to youngsters who are seated around them and are listening intently. This image may have been conjured up by the fact that the story itself is told by Chinonso’s Chi (his ‘guardian’ spirit), but also by the way Obioma structured his story.

While the beginning of the book focuses mainly on the love story between Chinonso and Ndali, the overall narrative is deeply rooted in stories about and experiences of migration, the African diaspora, and the struggles faced by Nigerians in Nigeria (and by extension, Africans in Africa). ‘An Orchestra of Minorities’ lays bare the problems that Nigeria as a country faces today, but it also digs deeper into its past and the legacy it has imprinted on the country and its people. A combination of all these important yet deeply nuanced and complex topics may seem difficult, but Obioma successfully explores them and does them justice. The book somewhat reminded me of ‘Americanah’ by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie in the sense that both books explore a panoply of contemporary issues faced by Africans across the world. Obioma’s ‘An Orchestra of Minorities’ is, however, deeper rooted in Igbo traditions, culture, and storytelling – the book combines and merges the traditional with the modern.

I am really glad I listened to the audiobook since the author has included quite a few lines in Igbo, which are not translated into English, but non-Igbo speakers still get the meaning of them, and since I would not have known how the pronounce or read them out in my mind, I benefitted from having them read to me by the narrator of the audiobook.

Overall, I absolutely adore this book. I loved the underlying criticism of colonialism and post-colonialism, I was moved by Obioma’s obvious, deep love for the Igbo language, Igbo traditions and heritage. I was deeply captured by his ability to tell a beautifully engaging story, his successful marriage of a modern-day story and issues with ancient (yet contemporary) Igbo culture and values.