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Chigozie Obioma - Longlist author interview

Chigozie Obioma - Longlist author interview

In the latest in our series of interviews with Man Booker Prize 2015 longlisted authors, we speak to Chigozie Obioma author of The Fisherman,

What has it been like to be longlisted?

It was an unexpected news, but one that came in while sharing a meal in Nigeria with my Dad. I loved the gleeful interruption that the news brought. But on the whole, it has been a truly humbling experience. The Fishermen was published eons ago, in February. Reviews had already run their course, and the book was already going comatose. But the prize has pumped a new life into it, making the book to live again.

What are you working on next?

I have just become motivated enough to complete another novel titled The Falconer. It is hard to describe it now, but it is one I chose to complete among a file of almost a dozen novel ideas. But there is also a collection of personal essays about my five-year sojourn in the island of Cyprus. 

What are you reading at the moment?

I'm reading an older book, The Jewish War, by the first century historian, Flavius Josephus. Intriguing, apt, illuminating, and audacious.

What is your favourite Man Booker-winning novel?

Without question, Arundhati Roy’s debut novel, The God of Small Things, which won the Booker prize in 1997. That novel is a consummate example of what I think a novel should be and do.

In The Fishermen four brothers of great promise are undermined by a prophesy. Some commentators have seen this as a metaphor for Nigeria itself. Was that idea in your head as you were writing?

Absolutely.  It is in part an intended to be a metaphor, but not wholly. The idea of Nigeria did not come from us—the people. It was foreign, external. We were on our own, doing our various things. We were many tribes and nations. Some of the people were farmers, some were herbalists, and even some fishermen. Then the foreigner comes and tells us, ‘Look, this is how you ought to be.’ And, sadly, we continue to believe and accept it. The result is a country that has failed, and in my opinion, remains unsustainable. In the novel, that external force is Abulu. He gives his prophecy—“Ikenna you will be this way,” and leaves, and the children believe it. He doesn’t kill Ikenna himself, but he does so still by using the collaboration of the people themselves. But perhaps, too, Abulu’s prophesy has potent power of its own. The Historian, Will Durant, once said that “a great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself within.” All you need is an external infiltration, and the brothers (the tribes and nation-states) will tear each other apart. Yet, the question remains: Is there any hope? Can we again regain what was lost? No?

Chigozie Obioma