The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma is set in the 1990s in Akure, a small town in Nigeria; and centers around four brothers who commit to fishing at the forbidden (and cursed) Omi-Ala River. Their father, Mr. Agwu, wants his sons to be juggernauts—children who will “dip their hands into rivers, seas, oceans of this life and […]
Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions contains powerful, simple, and witty gems for moving towards gender equality. This manifesto is essential reading for mothers and fathers who are raising young children, and others who envision raising children in a gender-equal world. The fierce and powerful truth is this: there is no single or […]
Do You Return Home If Your Dreams Do Not Pan out Like You Envisioned?
The novel Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue links the lives of two families in distinct spheres of American society. The Jongas, a Cameroonian immigrant family, live in Harlem, and the Edwards, an upper-class family, enjoy a privileged life characterized by vacations to the Hamptons.
The author focuses on immigration and aspects of the immigrant experience in the U.S. and uses the backdrop of the Great Recession of the late 2000s to tell a captivating story. The writing is tender and honest, and each character’s experience is treated with honor and grace. The closeness we feel for the Jonga family does not limit our sympathy for the Edwards.
Though we have different life experiences, at our core, we are all human.
A theme that stands out is that of return migration. The author does not write about immigration in this way, but Jende Jonga’s decision certainly provides evidence that migration is not a one-way experience for many immigrants. Some immigrants choose to return to their country of origin for many reasons, including a new realization of what life in America might mean for them and their family.
I am pleased that the author told this story. A story of choosing to return home—wherever that is for you—when your dreams do not pan out the way you envisioned.
It is indeed possible to dream bold dreams, have them deferred, and then dream again.
In the end, I am so hurt by how things end for Okonkwo and Umuofia, that I am filled with rage. I will read this book once a year to get a reminder—rooted in history— of why reclaiming my time is crucial.
Chinua Achebe’s writing is both purposeful and powerful. The pre-colonial setting provides a glimpse into what life might have been like before the British colonialists descended in Nigeria under the guise of Christianity.
Obierika, Okonkwo’s best friend and a voice of reason throughout the novel, poses the following questions to Okonkwo in Chapter 20.
“Does the white man understand our custom about land?”
“How can he when he does not even speak our tongue? But he says that our customs are bad; and our own brothers who have taken up his religion also say that our customs are bad.”
“How do you think we can fight when our own brothers have turned against us?”
Obierika then draws a poignant conclusion.
“The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”
This book has and will continue to stand the test of time. It is a masterpiece that speaks volumes about the grotesque impact of colonialism in Nigeria. The story also shines a light on the consequences of embracing change over tradition, or becoming a relic, over adapting to a new way of life.
Things Fall Apart is the first book in the African Trilogy that includes No Longer at Ease, and Arrow of God.
Their father, Mr. Agwu, wants his sons to be juggernauts—children who will “dip their hands into rivers, seas, oceans of this life and become successful: doctors, pilots, professors, lawyers.”
Things change when Mr. Agwu is transferred out of town for work and the brothers realize that they can evade their mother’s attempts to keep them at bay. The brothers start to skip school to embark on fishing adventures.
Despite warnings by a priest, and beatings by their father after he learns about their visit to Omi-Ala, they continue with their fishing expeditions. After all, they are fishermen, not juggernauts, as their father would say.
As time goes on they encounter the madman, Abulu, who speaks a prophecy that is destined to be fulfilled.
The youngest brother, Benjamin, narrates the foreshadowing.
There is grief, chaos, and healing; but more importantly for the Agwu family, redemption.
This story took my breath away.
From the beginning until the end, I was under a hypnotic spell of carefully worded sentences and descriptions. The writing is as poetic, as it is, mystical and vivid.
The best part of the novel is the interweaving of folklore with the realities of a country, family, and sibling relationships. The author succeeds in capturing pieces of the political chaos that marked Nigeria in the 90s.
Overall, a stellar debut novel and one of the best books I have read in a long time.
In 2016, Newsweek published an interesting article about the author, Nigeria, and his plans for a future novel. Available here.
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Reveals What It Means to Be Free
In Purple Hibiscus, Kambili and Jaja Achike’s story will stick with you forever. Their father, papa, is an abusive Catholic extremist, who values how he appears to those outside of his home, versus how he treats his family. At home, he is a violent dictator, but in public, he is a well-respected philanthropist.
Jaja’s disobedience at church, not getting up to take communion, stirs up the story. Kambili, the narrator, takes readers back to the events that triggered Jaja’s eventual defiance.
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is essential reading for several reasons. Most important, however, is how she uses the Achike family to discuss larger societal themes. Chimamanda is able to write about whiteness and colonialism; silence and freedom; religion; and violence and war, topics that are resounding throughout the novel.
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie contrasts papa with his sister Ifeoma. While papa believes Whiteness is superior and even fakes a British accent when speaking to White people, Aunty ifeoma, an outspoken professor at the University of Lagos, Nsukka, questions the notion that everything from the White man is superior.
The profound impact of colonialism in Nigeria is on full display in their interactions with each other.
Silence and freedom
The theme of silence is dominant in the novel. As the story unfolds, we observe as Kambili and Jaja are silenced under their father’s tyrannical rule. It is not until Aunty Ifeoma, and her children show up that we see the extent of Kambili and Jaja’s inability to express themselves. Aunty Ieoma’s children are outspoken, laugh a lot, and are free. Their speech is not silenced, and they are encouraged and supported to voice their opinions. In essence, there is freedom of speech.
The concept of freedom of speech comes up both metaphorically and literally when we learn about the standard, the only newspaper in Nigeria to speak out about the government. In the end, however, this freedom of speech comes with a severe price, it is interesting to learn that Kambili’s father runs the newspaper.
Chimamanda contrasts the freedom of speech that papa enjoys via his newspaper to the silence he demands from his children at home
Religion is another important theme. Kambili and Jaja are not allowed to visit their grandfather—a pagan worshiper—who still practices traditional Igbo rituals. According to papa, their grandfather is a heathen, and Kambili and Jaja are forbidden from visiting him.
However, when Kambili and Jaja visit Aunty ifeoma in Nsukka, they are introduced to a softer experience of their Catholic faith. Chimamanda highlights the idea that there are multiple ways to practice the same religion. While one way may cause harm to others, another approach may be one of love and acceptance.
Ultimately, both Kambili and Jaja have to choose the path that they believe is best for them.
Violence and war
The personal and familial war that each character endures is parallel to the turmoil that Nigeria, in its post-colonial infancy, faces.
Purple Hibiscus was a wonderfully written book; partly because Chimananda created space for the reader to emote on Kambili’s behalf. For the majority of the novel, Kambili is distant as she narrates the events that followed Jaja’s defiance.
Purple Hibiscus reveals quite eloquently what it means to be free.