Chigozie Obioma’s latest book An Orchestra of Minorities has changed the world of storytelling for me.
Focused on Chinonso, a poor poultry farmer, and Ndali, a woman from a wealthy Nigerian family, An Orchestra of Minorities combines and reflects both the tales we already know, such as The Odyssey, and Igbo traditions and stories, which some of us may not be so familiar with.
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. An Orchestra of Minorities lays bare the problems that Nigeria, as a country, faces today. It also digs deep 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 bravely 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.
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.
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 benefited from having them read to me by the narrator of the audiobook.
Overall, I absolutely loved this book, and especially 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, and was 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.