An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma
From the award winning author of ‘The Fishermen’ comes a tragedy based in Igbo cosmology. The book is narrated by the chi (the personal god/guardian spirit) of the protagonist Chinonso. It begins with a scene in which a woman, Ndali is on the verge of dying by suicide but is stopped from this fatal end by a display of affection from a stranger, Chinonso. Continuing from there the pair builds a relationship that is strong in their affections towards one another, but faced with many obstacles in a world where only love is not sufficient to sustain a relationship.
Ndali is wealthy and well educated and Chinonso is not seen as a worthy suitor by her family causing tensions in the book amongst various characters. To make himself more acceptable and desirable to Ndali’s family, Chinonso decides to move to Cyprus to get a degree and become an ‘educated man’. To be able to finance this, Chinonso sells most of his possessions.
In his years in Cyprus, thousands of kilometers away from his home, we see how Chinonso struggles with his decision to leave his beloved country. This is largely due to the fact that he has been cheated by the man who brought him to Cyprus and he is left penniless and homeless in a country that is strange to him and his pride makes it difficult for him to ask for assistance from his lover Ndali. Even his chi feels disempowered to help him here as it does not have a full grasp on the spirit world in this faraway country.
In a sense, this book can be read as a struggle between two homes for Chinonso. One being the physical home he has worked hard to keep that includes his small farm and chickens that he truly loves and the other being the home that he has found in Ndali. In trying to bring these two notions of home together he stirs up much trouble for himself. True to the nature of tragedies the suffering of the characters does not seem to have an end in sight yet that brings about a beauty to the book in the characters constant and unrelenting nature.
The title ‘an orchestra of minorities’ alludes to the power of the struggle as it refers to the singing/wailing of Chinonso’s chickens as they are being prepared for their inevitable death on slaughter days. A haunting name for a heart breaking story that we have all heard before, of a poor man falling in love with a woman whom he is not allowed to be with and striving to do all he can to be with her.