Monday, September 7, 2015

The Fishermen: My Notes and Kindle Highlights

2015 Reading List

Updated 9/15:

This is Obioma's first novel and it has been met with widespread critical acclaim in places like the Times; it also made the long short list for the 2015 Booker Prize.  And for good reason--Obioma stands as the heir apparent to Achebe because of his writing acumen in translating and capturing complex political events amidst parables and fables (personally, I also prefer Obioma's writing to that of Achebe).  In Fishermen, we hear the tale of a family falling apart amidst the backdrop of the turbulent 1993 elections.  As the reader is drawn in with a tale of a family's arc toward destruction, one can't but enjoy Obioma's insights into Nigerian family life (e.g., the switching between Yoruba, Igbo and English in a single conversation and headscarves tied to indicate you've been praying).   Like most great stories, though, when you strip away everything Obioma's Fishermen is about relationships and family and the secrets they keep.

BUT, perhaps one of the best things about this book is that Obioma is still in his 20's and just beginning!

The Fishermen: A Novel by Chigozie Obioma
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Last annotated on August 10, 2015
Because things followed this known and structured pattern, no day was worthy of remembrance. All that mattered was the present and the foreseeable future.Read more at location 65
But Father’s move to Yola changed the equation of things: time and seasons and the past began to matter, and we started to yearn and crave for it even more than the present and the future.Read more at location 70
Father made it a tradition to visit every other weekend, in his Peugeot 504 saloon, dusty, exhausted from the fifteen-hour drive.Read more at location 81

At the beginning of the third month, his long arm that often wielded the whip, the instrument of caution, snapped like a tired tree branch. Then we broke free.Read more at location 86
For we derived great joy from this fishing, despite the difficulties and meagre returns.Read more at location 171
When I look back today, as I find myself doing more often now that I have sons of my own, I realize that it was during one of these trips to the river that our lives and our world changed. For it was here that time began to matter, at that river where we became fishermen.Read more at location 172
eye that mocks a father, that scorns an aged mother, will be pecked out by the ravens of the valley, will be eaten by the vultures.”Read more at location 293

Mother ended the night with this passage from Proverbs—the most frightening I knew of in the entire Bible. Looking back, I realize it must have been the way she quoted it, in Igbo—imbuing the words with venoms—that made it so damning. Aside from this, Mother said all else in English instead of Igbo, the language with which our parents communicated with us; while between us, we spoke Yoruba, the language in Akure. English, although the official language of Nigeria, was a formal language with which strangers and non-relatives addressed you. It had the potency of digging craters between you and your friends or relatives if one of you switched to using it. So, our parents hardly spoke English, except in moments like this, when the words were intended to pull the ground from beneath our feet. Our parents were adept at this, and so Mother succeeded. For, the words “drowned,” “everything,” “exist,” “dangerous” came out heavy, measured, charged and indicting, and lingered and tormented us long into the night.Read more at location 294
He bemoaned the poor health facilities in the country. He swore at Abacha, the dictator, and railed on about the marginalization of Igbos in Nigeria.Read more at location 350
I sweat and suffer to send you to school to receive a Western education as civilized men, but you chose instead to be fishermen. Fish-a-men!”Read more at location 408
Our parents often found the need to explain such expressions containing concealed meanings because we sometimes took them literally, but it was the way they learned to speak; the way our language—Igbo—was structured. For although the vocabulary for literal construction for cautionary expressions such as “be careful” was available, they said “Jiri eze gi ghuo onu gi onu—Count your teeth with your tongue.” To which, once, while scolding Obembe for a wrong act, Father had burst out laughing when he saw Obembe moving his tongue over the ridge of his mouth,Read more at location 494

Ikenna threw off his shirt and hissed in reply. I was stupefied. Hissing at an older person in Igbo culture was considered an insufferable act of insubordination.Read more at location 667
In this part of Africa, married women often went by the name of their first child.Read more at location 764
It was covered with posters bearing the portraits of Chief M.K.O. Abiola, the presidential aspirant of the Social Democratic Party (SDP).Read more at location 831

But now, Ikenna replaced “Mama” with “M.K.O.,” and we had all joined in, singing at the top of our lungs:Read more at location 875
M.K.O., you are beautiful beyond description. Too marvellous for words. The most wonderful of all creatures, Like nothing never seen nor heard. Who can touch your infinite wisdom? Who can fathom the depths of your love? M.K.O., you are beautiful beyond description. Your majesty is enthroned above.Read more at location 877
“Ladies and gentlemen, these four boys of one family will now be awarded scholarships by the Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola campaign organization.” As the crowdRead more at location 919

She sat there wondering what had happened to Ikenna. She was worried because Ikenna was, until recently, our beloved brother, the forerunner who shot into the world ahead of all of us and opened every door for us. He guided us, protected us and led us with a full-lit torch. Even though he sometimes punished Obembe and me or disagreed with Boja on certain issues, he became a prowling lion when an outsider rattled any of us. I did not know what it was to live without contact with him, without seeing him. But this was exactly what began to happen, and as the days passed, it seemed he deliberately sought to hurt us.Read more at location 946
Lost in the moment, I watched this awesome creature with all the concentration I could gather until details of him filled my mind. He was robed from head to foot in filth. As he rose spryly to stand, some of the filth rose with him, while some was left in patches on the ground. He had a fresh scar on his face just below his chin, and his back was caked with a dripping mess from some dead mango in a state of putrefaction. His lips were dried and cracked. His hair was unkempt; it stretched like tendrils, giving him the appearance of a Rastafarian. His teeth, most of which were blackened as if singed, reminded me of fire-blowing gypsies and circus players who blew fire from their mouths and probably, I thought, burned their teeth. The man lay bare before our eyes, stark naked except for a shred of rag which hung loosely from his shoulder down to his waist; his pubic region was covered with a dense foliage of hair in the midst of which his veiny penis hung limply like trouser rope. His legs were bursting with taut varicose veins.Read more at location 1015
We watched the forward-and-backwards swing of his backbone as he sang and danced, the song’s charged lyrics falling back on us like wind-borne dust. A fe f ko le fe ko ma kan igi oko As the wind cannot blow without touching the trees Osupa ko le hon ki enikan fi aso di As no one can block the light of the moon with a sheet of the moon with a sheet Oh, Olu Orun, eni ti mo je Ojise fun Oh, father of the host for whom I’m an oracle E fa orun ya, e je ki ojo ro I implore you to tear the firmaments and give rain Ki oro ti mo to gbin ba le gbo That the green things I have sown will live E ba igba orun je, ki oro mi bale mi Mutilate the seasons so my words can breathe, Ki won ba le gbo. That they yield fruit.Read more at location 1070

followed by a cry from Ikenna’s voice: “Tell me!” “Didn’t you hear him?” Boja asked menacingly even though Obembe—frozen in a posture of his hand shielding himself from an expected assault from Ikenna—had begun to speak. “He said,” Obembe stammered, but stopped when Boja spoke. Now he began afresh again: “He said—he said that a fisherman will kill you, Ike.” “What, a fisherman?” Boja said aloud.Read more at location 1102
were almost at our gate when Ikenna faced us, but with his eyes cast on no one in particular. “He saw a vision that one of you will kill me,” he said.Read more at location 1111

Mother was a falconer: The one who stood on the hills and watched, trying to stave off whatever ill she perceived was coming to her children. She owned copies of our minds in the pockets of her own mind and so could easily sniff troubles early in their forming, the same way sailors discern the forming foetus of a coming storm.Read more at location 1224
She wore a headscarf that was knotted behind her head into the shape of a bird’s tail—a sign she’d been praying.Read more at location 1239

once heard that when fear takes possession of the heartRead more at location 1310
of a person, it diminishes them. This could be said of my brother, for when the fear took possession of his heart, it robbed him of many things—his peace, his well-being, his relationships, his health, and even his faith. Ikenna began walkingRead more at location 1311

Then, suddenly clutching his belly, he raced to the bathroom, making choking sounds as he retched into the sink. It was here that his illness began, when the fear robbed him of his health, for it seemed that the account of the man’s death had established in him the unquestionable inescapability of Abulu’s prescient powers, causing smoke to rise from things yet unburned. A few daysRead more at location 1371
Obembe, trying to cleanly erase his spittle, trailed behind momentarily. By spitting and erasing it, we were observing the superstition that if a pregnant woman stepped on saliva, the person who had spit—if male—would be rendered permanently impotent, which I understood at the time to mean that one’s organ would magically disappear. This was indeedRead more at location 1423

he’d tell the story of his escapade as a ten-year-old boy during the war when he was left to cater for, hunt for, feed and protect his mother and younger sisters after they all took to the big Ogbuti forest to escape the invasion of our village by the Nigerian army.Read more at location 1480

“No, we can’t,” Boja objected. “If these men break in, they will recognize we are M.K.O.’s boys, ‘Children of Hope ’93’, enemies, and, we’ll be in greater danger than anyone else.”Read more at location 1495
We could tell from the man’s attire—a long, flowing Senegalese robe—that he was a northerner: the main targets of the onslaught by M.K.O. Abiola supporters, who’d hijacked the riot as a struggle between his west, and the north, where the military president, General Babangida, belonged.Read more at location 1524

Then we knew we were safe and had escaped the 1993 election uprising in which more than a hundred people were killed in Akure. June the 12th became a seminal day in the history of Nigeria. EveryRead more at location 1540

Throughout the rest of that day, Mother was a mined road that exploded when anyone stepped within an inch ofRead more at location 1613

promise,” he’d said, licking the tip of his index finger in a gesture of oath-taking,Read more at location 1622
houses, drowning many and turning whole cities into strange rivers. It would transform the locusts from harbingers of good things into the heralds of evil. Such was the fate the week that followed Boja’s head injury brought to the people of Akure, to all Nigerians, and to our family.Read more at location 1634
was the week in August when Nigeria’s Olympic “Dream Team” got to the final of the men’s football.Read more at location 1636
The man had eyes that stared inwards at each other, the kind of eyes commonly known as quarter-after-four eyes.Read more at location 1674
This was because he was, in fact, a sparrow; a fragile thing who did not design his own fate. It was designed for him. His chi, the personal god the Igbos believe everyone had, was weak. His was the efulefu kind: the irresponsible sentinel that sometimes abandoned its subject and went on far journeys or errands, leaving them unprotected. This was the reason why, by the time he became a teenager, he’d already had his fill of sinister events and personal tragedies, for he was a mere sparrow who lived in a world of black storms.Read more at location 1871
Ikenna was a fragile delicate bird; he was a sparrow.Read more at location 1948
critical of things, a part of him that greatly resembled Father. He nailed small things to big crosses and would ponder for long on a wrong word he said to someone; he greatly dreaded the reprove of others.Read more at location 1950
This tongue, which was now frozen, used to produce words as fungi produced spores. When agitated, words often sprang like tigers from her mouth, and poured like leaks from a broken pipe when sober. But from that night onwards, words pooled in her brain but only very little leaked out; they congealed in her mind.Read more at location 2270
Then, in late October, the Harmattan—a season when the dry dusty wind from the Sahara desert of northern Nigeria travelled south and covered most of sub-Saharan Africa—seemed to have appeared overnight, leaving a thick, heavy fog to hang suspended in patches of cumulus awnings over Akure like a spectral presence even into sunrise.Read more at location 2405

Although Christianity had almost cleanly swept through Igbo land, crumbs and pieces of the African traditional religion had eluded the broom.Read more at location 2467
have now come to know that what one believes often becomes permanent, and what becomes permanent can be indestructible.Read more at location 2509
The statue of Samuel Okwaraji, the erstwhile Nigerian football player who died on the field of play in 1989,Read more at location 2572
Hatred is a leech: The thing that sticks to a person’s skin; that feeds off them and drains the sap out of one’s spirit. It changes a person, and does not leave until it has sucked the last drop of peace from them.Read more at location 2620
as usual, he berated Gowon, a man we had grown to hate, the man he’d repeatedly accused of bombing our village several times—the man who killed very many women during the Nigerian civil war. “That idiot,” he snapped, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down in his throat, his neck taut with sinews, “is the greatest enemy of Nigeria.”Read more at location 2703
But my brother had said he would carry out the plan with all the powers of persuasion, determined that he would succeed, for his desire had become an indestructible leech.Read more at location 2719
But Abulu was a leviathan: An undying whale that could not be easily killed by a band of valiant sailors.Read more at location 2722
But these were not all; he smelt of immaterial things. He smelt of the broken lives of others, and of the stillness in their souls. He smelt of unknown things, of strange elements, and of fearsome and forgotten things. He smelt of death.Read more at location 2835
Whatever we had in the natural way of living, it seemed, had been mauled by the monstrous termite of grief that had attacked us. And our family had become a shadow of what we once were.Read more at location 2957
We would return home from church, have pepper soup and sponge cakes and soft drinks and just as in past years, Father would play a video of Ras Kimono for the New Year dance. David,Read more at location 3012
Hope was a tadpole: The thing you caught and brought home with you in a can, but which, despite being kept in the right water, soon died.Read more at location 3024
Abulu fell backwards into the water in a wild splash. I’d once been told that if a man wanted something he did not have, no matter how elusive that thing was, if his feet do not restrain him from chasing it, he would eventually grab it. This was our case. As we watchedRead more at location 3153
“Don’t worry,” he said, the chirping of the night crickets punctuating his speech. “It is finished.” “It is finished,” a voice repeated in my ears. I nodded and my brother, dropping the line, inched forward and embraced me.Read more at location 3180
My brother and I were roosters: The creatures that crow to wake people, announcing the end of nights like natural alarm clocks, but who, in return for their services, must be slain for man’s consumption.Read more at location 3184
Benjamin, was a moth: The fragile thing with wings, who basks in light, but who soon loses its wings and falls to the ground. When my brothers, Ikenna and Boja, died, I felt like a fabric awning that had always sheltered me was torn off from over my head, but when Obembe ran away, I fell from space, like a moth whose wings were plucked off its body while in flight, and became a being that could no longer fly but crawl.Read more at location 3437

He seemed to pause between speeches in the way a driver would pull the brake, slow down and ramp up again. We drove in theRead more at location 3483
dawned on me for the first time that Father, our Father, the strong man, could not help me; he’d become a tamed eagle with broken claws and a crooked beak.Read more at location 3554

David and Nkem were egrets: The wool-white birds that appear in flocks after a storm, their wings unspotted, their lives unscathed. Although they became egrets in the midst of the storm, they emerged, wings afloat in the air, at the end of it, when everything as I knew it had changed.Read more at location 3563
M.K.O.’s afflictions had begun a few months after we met, when the 1993 election he was believed to have won was annulled, setting off a chain of events that put Nigeria’s politics on an unprecedented slide for the mud.Read more at location 3611
But the egrets were also known for something else: they were often signs or harbingers of good times. They were believed to cleanse the fingernail better than the best nail files. Whenever we and the children of Akure saw them flying in the sky, we rushed out and flapped our fingers after the low-flying white flock travelling overhead, repeating the one-line saying: “Egrets, egrets, perch on me.”Read more at location 3691
“We were fishermen. My brothers and I became—”Read more at location 3728

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