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‘An Orchestra of Minorities’ nominated for Man Booker Prize

‘An Orchestra of Minorities’ nominated for Man Booker Prize

Posted December. 04, 2019 07:29,   

Updated December. 04, 2019 07:29


A man named Chinonso, born into a family running a poultry farm in Nigeria, falls in love with a woman named Ndali whose family is wealthy and well-educated. Dreaming of marrying her, Chinonso decides to pursue higher education abroad, but ends up being scammed and even imprisoned, falsely accused of a murder. Then he feels the shadow of “this thing” and shivers in fear.

The story presents a twist of “Igbo cosmology” believed by the Igbo people in Nigeria, the names of gods difficult to pronounce, and the concept of a deceased spirit “Qi.” These ideas may not sound familiar, but the novel’s plot itself based on love is nothing but unusual as in the stories of popular TV dramas with unrealistically extreme turns and twists. “An Orchestra of Minorities” is considered a novel that combined a love story with African culture in an extraordinary way.

Nominated for the Man Booker Prize, the novel was written by the Nigerian writer Chigozie Obioma, whose debut novel “The Fishermen” had been also shortlisted for the same prize. In an e-mail interview with the Dong-A Ilbo, Obioma said that his latest novel consists of a story based on Igbo cosmology and his friend’s suffering. He wrote the novel being curious about why a life gets to be engaged in a tragedy all of a sudden and why people’s hearts get broken, Obioma explained.

When he was studying overseas in Northern Cyprus in 2009, one of his friends committed suicide. It was then he started thinking about emotions that drive people into extremes. By exploring the changes of emotions, he could understand better what makes up human beings, Obioma said.

Chinonso’s life journey gets a mythical atmosphere with the presence of “Qi.” Having been repeatedly reincarnated for the past 700 years, Qi has taken care of its owners’ life. An expectation is a vicious drop of blood that fell on the blood vessel of time, it says. Such affection is what the spirit aspires and is a noble dungeon where his heart is trapped, it also says.

Obioma was born in Akure, Nigeria. As a child aged 10, he was fascinated by Greek myths, Shakespeare, and ethnic myths. “The Bluest Eye” written by Toni Morrison came as a shock to him. It was a story of an 11-year-old black girl who hated her black skin and wished for blue eyes like those of Shirley Temple.

The book taught the young Obioma that we should realize the beauty of ourselves and take pride in the legacy to stop other worlds from destroying us. He has now grown into a mainstream writer in the United States who knows “what to write” is the most important of all.

Seol Lee snow@donga.com