“He lay by her, saying words which―although she, he and I alone could hear―were also heard in the realm beyond man as thunderous acclamations meant for the ears of man and spirits, the dead and the living, for the moment and for ever : ‘I have found it ! I have found it ! I have found it !’”
Thus speaks Chinonso’s chi, the Igbo term for personal spirit or personal god, in favour of his host’s redemption, a plea which becomes the novel itself. Chinonso, the protagonist, has a remarkable story told by a spirit who has the complex role of defending him while observing with a neutral eye his every move, thought and feeling.
The story begins when Chinonso sees a young woman on a bridge ready to jump in the water and take her life, and convinces her not to. Ndali, a wealthy pharmacist-to-be, and Chinonso, a young farmer, begin a relationship which turns their world upside down and transforms everything around them. In an sobre tone, the chi often reminds the enthusiastic humans of their fragility and hopelessness, like Chinonso’s poultry in the sight of the hawk.
In a world where the dead are not dead and the spirits communicate with humans, the elegant language of Obioma’s second novel is itself the result of the mixture of English, Igbo and Nigerian pidgin. Infused with notions and images from the Igbo religious universe, the narrative unfolds under the form of a long and elaborate plea to defend the human nature and its inevitable mistakes. Although accustomed to the humans’ ways, the protagonist’s chi never ceases to marvel at the power love has over life, at how it can both elevate and destroy a man’s soul. In a sophisticated mixture of Igbo cosmology and ancient Greek tragedy, Chigozie Obioma’s brilliant novel advocates love as an overwhelming power which burns down everything on its way.
An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma
978-0-349-14318-7 / Norton (2019)
Review by Ioana Danaila
Ioana Danaila was born in Romania. She graduated from University Lyon 2 Lumière with a Masters in African Postcolonial Literature and a First degree in French for Non-Francophone people. She is the author of a collection of short stories and a translator of books from French to Romanian. She is trilingual in Romanian, French and English, and teaches English language and literature to highschool students in France.