BookPage starred review, January 2019
After making an international splash with his 2015 debut, The Fishermen, and receiving a nomination for the Man Booker prize, Chigozie Obioma returns with an engrossing new epic. In An Orchestra of Minorities, Obioma blends the folklore of his country’s Igbo people with the narrative framework of Homer’s Greek classic The Odyssey to produce a multicultural fable that heralds a new master of magical realism.
Set in southeastern Nigeria, An Orchestra of Minorities tells the story of Chinonso, a lonely and humble poultry farmer who makes the mistake of falling in love with the wrong woman, one who enjoys a much more privileged socioeconomic status and background than himself. Unnerved by her family’s strenuous objections to their match, Chinonso sells all his worldly possessions and travels overseas in order to secure an education, prove his worth and gain their approval to marry. Alas, misfortune plagues Chinonso as soon as he departs from Nigeria, and the fate that once drew the two lovers together now seems determined to keep them apart and break Chinonso’s spirit in the process.
After enduring much hardship and many years away in Cyprus, Chinonso returns home to discover that the only woman he has ever loved is perhaps even further out of reach than before, and he may also have lost the man that he once was during his time away.
It’s a special writer who can take the familiar tropes found within An Orchestra of Minorities and infuse them with new life, transforming them into something exciting and unexpected. Happily, Obioma is exactly such an author. Not only does the Nigerian backdrop add depth and interest to the tale, but the story itself is told from the perspective of Chinonso’s chi, a protector from the spirit realm who weaves in Igbo mythology and guides the narrative through both mortal and metaphysical dimensions, resulting in a unique and unforgettable reading experience.
Written in lambent prose and ambitious in scope, An Orchestra of Minorities is no fairy tale, but rather a tragic masterpiece.