An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma

Advertised as the modern day Odyssey, I did not wait waste my time and I picked up this novel right away, but after reading pages and pages I could not find neither Odysseus, nor the Trojan war. It was only – mentioned in the text. There was Odysseus, there was Penelope, but not much to do with them. And then listening to Obioma on BBC a couple days ago I heard him say that his novel was a modern version of Paradise Lost. I can’t see much of Paradise Lost in it either. It is difficult to understand why is there a need to make such similes because it only makes the novel seem less interesting or less in every way when they just can’t compare in any way.

Interestingly, the novel is narrated by the main character’s chi, adding a fantastic and supernatural dimension to the book, explaining and getting into Igbo cosmology, something new to me, fresh and different. Giving the book a feel of ancient folk stories.

The fact that the narrator is the host’s chi gives the narrator a unique duality because the chi is at the same time the chi and its host, at the same time telling the story in the first and the third person:

“Although I will relate most things in my own words, they will be true because he and I are one. His voice is my voice. To speak of his words as if he were distinct from me is to render my own words as if they were spoken by another”

I see this novel as a story about what society too often does to ordinary people. An interesting cautionary tale, stating that violence causes more violence, that violence and hate are more powerful than love.

“Think of it this way: love never dies. You see, in that film you saw, The Odyssey, in which the man returned after ten years to find his wife still waiting for him, the wife knew that her husband loved her and was just being kept away from her because of circumstances of life. So she remained faithful through the years, refusing, no matter how much she was pressured, to betray him. Is this not the same situation with you? Is it not, simply, only four years? Only four years.”

In a way Chinonso is the exact opposite of Odysseus, naïve, gullible, weak, unsure of everything, unwise or better to say – not smart at all. He is obsessive and irrational. In the end, after all bad things that happened to him, all wrongdoing he had to endure, he is the one who causes his own unhappiness, demise and his love’s bitter end. Only out of rage and violence.

The pace is a bit slow, but quite an original and interesting read, but overall leaves the feeling that the author wanted too much and got less that expected.

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