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New novel explores African politics through the parable of four brothers

Jul 1, 2015

Credit Courtesy of the author

The Old Testament story of Cain and Abel is one of the most compelling in the Bible. How could a man kill his brother?

The tragedy is at the heart of the stunning debut novel The Fishermen from Chigozie Obioma.

Obioma was born in Nigeria and earned his Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from the University of Michigan.

The Fishermen is a parable set in 1990s Nigeria.

The story follows the four oldest boys of six children. They are forbidden to fish at the local river because it is believed through superstition to be where terrible things happen.

But against their mother's wishes, they continue to fish there. One day they are met by the local prophet, Abulu, who predicts that the eldest brother will be killed by a fisherman. This idea begins to tear the brothers apart. 

"The prophecy received by the brothers, who already see themselves as fishermen, is what changes the equation," Obioma says.

Obioma became interested in the idea of unity being destroyed from within and the story is a parable of post-independence Nigeria.

"I wanted to use this novel to raise the question: Why do we believe that we have to be one nation because Britain said be it. So the prophecy, was it fulfilled because the boys believed it or because it actually had its own elemental power to destroy them?"

The book has been well-received and Obioma says he was surprised by its success in the United States, including a rave review in The New York Times.

He's encouraged by the response and says he will continue to incorporate his heritage into his writing.

"Africa is where my soul was formed and I remain inextricably linked to that place and I feel that there is, in fact, a good thing about being able to criticize it and look at it from abroad."