Book-ish | Wk 40 – 2021

Hello bibliophiles,

It’s been a while since my last post, so bear with me as I attempt to get back into the habit of writing.

What have I been up to?

In 2020 I took a necessary break from writing, not just because my blogposts felt like they were all over the place at some point, but I also needed some time to figure out how to communicate the gratification as well as the mild frustrations that come with cultivating a reading lifestyle. A way to delve deeper into book-ish pet peeves and delights if you will.

For the longest time jotting down the occasional review was fulfilling enough for me. But as time progressed, I noticed that my reviews often resulted in okay-ish write-ups that would reveal a teensy bit more about the book than the average Goodreads synopsis. In hindsight the only reviews I am still fond of are the ones that examine how a novel made me feel or what fresh insights it added to my ever expanding view of the world. I still stand by everything I wrote about The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid and Kindred by Octavia Butler. The reason I might have stopped writing similar reviews is for fear of spoiling everybody else’s reading experience.

So for a while I kept producing reviews that were non-spoiler, concise and therefore probably bland and void of any real opinion or emotion. Which ultimately resulted in me writing nothing at all… until now.

On Reading The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

In the past week I finished The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma. A novel that I expected to enjoy but didn’t think would emotionally destroy me the way that it did. And yes, I am fully aware of how dramatic this all may sound, but I assure you it’s all good.

The fishermen is about four young brothers who live in Akure, Nigeria. One day they go fishing at a forbidden local river and there they encounter Abulu, the local madman. This madman predicts that the oldest brother will be killed by one of his siblings and herewith changes everything.

From my westernized perspective this encounter could’ve been brushed of as just an unfortunate run-in with the local madman. However, the thing that is most odd, is that while reading I never question the clusterfuck of events this prediction sparks. Because of all the information I’ve absorbed prior to all the heart wrenching incidents, Chigoze Obioma made sure that I would fully comprehend how some silly prophecy could cause even the strongest of family bonds to disintegrate.

You see, it is not the story in and of itself, but the way Chigoze Obioma tells it, that grabs one’s attention. Before we, the readers, meet Abulu, the local madman … We have already met the strict hardworking family patriarch, who has hopes and dreams for his boys. We already admire the matriarch who is able to juggle a job and six children while her husband works out of town. But first and foremost, we are already in awe of the four eldest siblings. The way they look after and protect each other earns them a spot in our hearts. We are even familiarized with Akure and might feel at home in this close knit community. We share the hopes, joy and dreams of this family.

So by the time tragedy strikes, we are fully invested in the life of the Agwu family and ultimately their grief becomes our grief.

The experience is akin to a horrendous roller coaster ride and we can’t get off. Oddly enough we don’t even want to. We’re part of this close knit community now and as a consequence we can’t let things rest until we’re assured that everybody is safe and sound. I guess this is the true magic of African Storytelling.

The other unique selling point of this novel is the fact that this story is a truly unapologetic black experience. None of the problems this family faces are caused by any type of racial divide, systemic oppression or white supremacy. None of Chigoze’s characters wake up to an existential crisis caused by how the world perceives the color of their skin. If like me, you have attempted to decolonize your bookshelf by deliberately prioritizing books by BIPOC authors, you’ll immediately recognize how exceptional this is.

The Fishermen unintentionally shed a light on a reading frustration I wasn’t even aware I had. Namely the fact that most of the popular books, by especially black authors, seem to all tackle racial inequality and such. The themes and/or storylines often have a colored protagonist that fights some type of racial injustice. Even if I was transported to a reality with an intriguing magic system, for some odd reason it was never an option to vanquish racism or white supremacy. I truly didn’t realize how mentally exhausting this reoccurring theme was, until I picked up a different kind of black experience.

Sidenote … In defense of the authors that painstakingly pen these essential storylines, the mental exhaustion is entirely a problem of my own making. Cause over time avid readers learn to space out challenging books. They know that they have to switch up challenging themes with something light-hearted from time to time. Unfortunately light-hearted books with predominantly black characters are still hard to come by. It’s not that they haven’t been written, is more often that they don’t get published because the overwhelmingly white gatekeepers of publishing tend to dismiss black joy narratives as unrealistic. But … this is a bookish frustration for another week.

To get back to topic … If it weren’t for the Man Booker prize shortlist, even an exceptional novel like The Fishermen might not have found its audience. The fact that Nigeria was the setting of the story, was a reason for many of the American publishers to deem the novel unprofitable. They wanted the author to add an immigration twist or some other nonsense so his story could appeal to a wider audience. Obviously Chigoze Obioma didn’t comply and since the book is currently available in over 20 different languages, it’s safe to assume the publishers made a huge mistake.

So in conclusion this week I feel fortunate to have been in the right headspace to receive this literary gift. In time I hope to write a review, preferably one that captures the uniqueness of this reading experience.

And with this I’ll wrap up my bookish pet peeves, delights and insights for this week. Please, feel free to share your book-ish musings in the comment section.

For now … I wish you Happy Reading 🤗

Norine

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