Nigerian-born author, Chigozie Obioma, has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2015 for his debut novel ‘The Fishermen’. Aged 28, Obioma is the youngest nominee this year and the second Nigerian ever to be nominated; the other being Ben Okri who won the prize in 1991 for his novel ‘The Famished Road’.
The Booker Prize, before last year, had only been awarded for the best original full-length novel written in English by a citizen of the Commonwealth, the Republic of Ireland or Zimbabwe. However, the eligibility was expanded to include any novel originally written in English and published in Britain.
Each shortlisted author will receive a specially-bound edition of their book along with £2,500. The winner of the annual £50,000 prize will be announced on 13 October during a ceremony at London’s Guildhall.
‘The Fishermen’ is the story of four brothers from a middle-class family who, with their iron-willed father absent, skip school without their mother’s knowledge. They succeed by hiding their fishing kit carefully when they come home. One day at the river, they encounter a vision-seeing crackpot who predicts that the eldest of them, Ikenna, will be killed by one of his brothers – a fisherman. This prophecy is the fire that transforms ordinary sibling rivalry into something far more deadly that follows the boys through their lives, shaking up the family and leading to a heartbreaking climax.
Helon Habila says of ‘The Fishermen’ – “It is an elegy to lost promise, to a golden age squandered, and yet it remains hopeful about the redemptive possibilities of a new generation – what I like to call the “post-nationalist generation”, described as “egrets” in the book: harbingers of a bright future.”
The New York Times dubbed him Chinua Achebe’s heir and ‘The Fishermen’ has widely received critical acclaim for excellent storytelling and lyrical prose. However, Percy Zvomuya of South Africa’s Sunday Times, who reviewed the novel, insists that Obioma’s inclusion in the Man Booker Prize list reflects the committee’s need to meet their African quota or as he put it; “They had to fish out an African”. He pointed out in his review that Obioma’s book is ‘overlong and overwritten’ and therefore did not deserve to be nominated. This view has been refuted by several other critics including Nigeria’s Obinna Udenwe. Wall Street Journal called it “an entrancing modern-day legend”, and numerous critics have referred to it as powerful, brilliant and moving.
Chigozie Obioma was born in Nigeria but has lived in Cyprus, Turkey and now the United States where he is a Professor of Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Nebraska. He has previously been the recipient of the Hopwood Award in Fiction and Poetry, and his works have appeared in various publications.