The Fishermen Cover

The Fishermen

Chigozie Obioma

A modern tale, reminiscent of a fable, 'The Fishermen' is the story of four brothers in Nigeria who find themselves up against the power of folk law.

That story, as all good stories, planted a seed in my soul and never left me.

Set in the town of Akure, a small settlement in Nigeria, four brothers, Ikenna, Objo, Obembe and the narrator, Ben, use their father’s absence from the family home to go fishing with some friends at a local river, a place of ill-repute. Dubbing themselves ‘Fishermen’, their trips prove to be a source of great enjoyment until on one occasion they mix paths with the notorious local madman. The man offers a prophecy, concerning the oldest brother, Ikenna, a name that should be unknown to him. Ikenna will die a gruesome death, killed by a fisherman.

The ominous prophecy shifts the dynamic of the household irreparably, as tensions run high and emotions consume the foundations of their brotherhood. The words uttered by the madman have greater consequences than any could imagine.

Chigozie Obioma weaves a tale imbued with myth and power, a mix of gruesome, harrowing scenes with moments of familial intimacy and folk law. The novel displays an intriguing plot of magical realism and suspense, whilst documenting Nigeria’s political and urban tensions.

The Fishermen was first published in the UK by ONE, an imprint of the independent publishing house Pushkin Press. Formed in 1997, Pushkin Press specialises in publishing fiction from around the globe, including translated works.

What effect do the changes in language, English, Yoruba and Igbo, have on the household?

Why do you think each chapter heading begins with the determiner ‘the’? what effect does this have? And what associations do the titles connote?

What is the difference in the power dynamic between mother and father in the Agwu family?

David and Nkem don’t get much mention in the novel. Why is this? Do you think it weakens the novel’s analysis of the family dynamic? Could it be a comment on their age?

How do the cultural references impact upon the narrative?

Despite his limited appearance, how does Abulu become arguably one of the most significant characters of the novel? Is he to blame for the events of the novel or is he just an intermediary for fate?

What political statements does the novel make? Do you think that parts of the novel required further insight into the 1993 political riots?

How does the quote ‘You compare everything to animals, Ben’ from page 116 fit in with the overall motif of the book?

How do you think Obembe’s life, after he fled, compared to that of Ben’s in prison?


As a result of Objo killing Ikenna and his own subsequent death in the well, Mother requires psychiatric help as she begins to suffer delusions. After her recovery from a bout of mental illness, Father plans for the family to emigrate to Toronto Canada, to start a new life.

As preparations are made for the move, Obembe seeks revenge against Abulu, plotting to kill him to restore justice for his brothers. He recruits the narrator, Ben, and the two spend days stalking Abulu, noting his movements and actions. They initially devise a plan to poison Abulu. Using rat-poisoned bread, they manage to get the madman to consume the substance but to no avail, he is unphased by the deadly meal. As the time of their departure draws nearer, Ben continues to have doubts about killing the man, but, Obembe becomes increasingly impatient and determined.

Eventually, under the cover of darkness and equipped with their fishing lines and hooks, they seek out Abulu near the Omi-Ala and attack him, brutally tearing flesh from his body with the fishing hooks. Fatally injured, Abulu falls into the river. As Ben and Obembe start to flee the scene, soldiers arrive and pursue them. Luckily, the two boys are able to evade the soldiers and safely return home. However, the next day, news spreads of Abulu’s murder. With soldiers searching door to door for the children involved, Obembe and Ben realise that they aren’t out of danger yet.

Ben and Obembe attempt to flee at nightfall, but upon reaching the outskirts of town Ben has second thoughts. He doesn’t want to leave Mother and cause the family more grief. Obembe carries on without him.

The next morning soldiers storm the household, arresting Ben and taking him into custody. Ben begins his trial, supported by his family, but his mother slips back into her previous state. His father reveals to Ben that he is proud of his actions, he too once tried to kill Abulu, but the madman threw a boiling pot of food at his face causing his ocular injury.

Against the hopes of Ben’s defence team, Ben is imprisoned for six years. Upon his release Akure has changed dramatically, becoming more urbanised and in the early stages of transforming into a modern city. Despite having previously received letters from him, no one has seen or heard from Obembe in years, but in his last letter he promised that he would meet Ben on his release date.

The family travel back to the Egwu home, having picked up Ben from the prison. As they arrive, they hear someone call from near the well, as the figure speaks and approaches it’s clear that it is Obembe having returned. The novel ends with Ben reflecting on the vision he had of Obembe returning, which he saw when at his trial. He took to the stand to make his statement and saw the shadow of a child with a rucksack pass in the direction of the family house; somehow Ben knew he would return.

The Fishermen is Chigozie Obioma’s debut novel. It has gone on to be nominated for and win several awards. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2015.

The novel was based on Obioma’s own personal experiences growing up in Akure during the 1990s.


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#TheFishermen was the best book I read in 2015! It’s a dark, haunting, mythical story about brotherhood, love and madness. Ikenna, Boja, Obembe and Ben are four of six children of the Agwu family in Akure, Nigeria. Ikenna, who is 15 years old is the leader of the pack. Boja is the adventurous 14-year-old, Obembe is the book-smart 11-year-old and Ben – who is the innocent narrator of this lyrical tale, is 9 years old. Once their father is assigned to work at a new location of the Central Bank of Nigeria, quite far away from his home, disorder slowly overtakes this family. _ I feel like I know/knew Ikenna, Boja, Obembe and Ben – their love and brotherhood are so dear to me, I don’t know why! I felt helpless during many parts of this story. At certain parts I just had to close the book, sit still… and pray. I desperately wanted to help Ikenna. I wanted to whisper into his ear and reassure him that his brothers loved him so much and that nobody was out to kill him. I wanted to goad Boja to have more patience with Ikenna since he (Ikenna) was going through a dark, miserable phase in his life where his faith and confidence were shaken. _ Some (Nigerian) readers weren’t fans of Obioma’s writing style in this book as some were bored with his ‘superfluous’ writing style. But IMO, the power of Obioma’s lyrical writing style is augmented by his use of metaphors, which are mostly rooted in animism. This may seem corny, but trust me – it certainly works in making the characters and different incidents in the story feel too real… and every word counts! References to Achebe’s novel #ThingsFallApart, M.K.O Abiola – a popular Nigerian political figure, alongside other contemporary happenings (during 1997) made this all the more a satisfying and realistic read. _ Chigozie Obioma definitely took fiction to another level with this spellbinding debut! (reviewed 2 years ago on the book blog & on @afreada) •• #ChigozieObioma #AfricanLiterature #AfricanLit #Bookstagram #Bestof2015 #AfricanBookAddict!

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Africa Writes @africawritesuk : a fantastic festival celebrating contemporary African literature! It’s happening this July in London and I just copped my tickets! 🥳 One of this year’s headliners is the amazing @chigozieobiomaauthor whose books ‘The Fishermen’ and ‘The Orchestral of Minorities’ I recently read and loved! I think, even though this may be an unpopular opinion, I preferred ‘An Orchestra’ to ‘Fishermen’. I just connected with the main characters in a special way. I felt for them, cried for them, suffered with them. It was an EXPERIENCE. 👉 Full review of ‘An Orchestra of Minorities’ is on the Blog. Naturally, I’m super excited for this year’s weekend of fabulous panels, unashamed book buying (🤪), and more! #africawrites #chigozieobioma #thefishermen #anorchestraofminorities #bookblogger #bookreviews #bookreviewers #bloggingforbooks #bookishfeature #bookfeatures #currentlyreading #literaryfiction #nonfiction #bookflatlay

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