Review: An Orchestra of Minorities

Here is a flowchart of where I am with sexism in litfic right now:

Don’t laugh, I made it in OpenOffice

You might be able to guess what I thought of An Orchestra of Minorities.

Chigozie Obioma’s second novel is informed by Igbo religion. In it, the world we see and hear is interpenetrated by a spiritual world populated by figures both malevolent and benevolent. It’s narrated by the chi, or guardian spirit, of a Nigerian chicken farmer called Nonso; Nonso’s chi is defending him in a spiritual court for committing a heinous crime.

The defence involves unspooling Nonso’s life story, in which he falls in love with a wealthy woman called Ndali, goes to Cyprus to get a degree and earn Ndali’s parents’ approval, gets conned out of a lot of money by a fellow Nigerian and eventually ends up in a Cyprus prison for a number of years for a crime he didn’t technically commit. When he returns to Nigeria, Ndali is married to another man with whom she has a child.

So a jealous Nonso harasses her and eventually sets fire to her workplace and (inadvertently) leaves her seriously injured.

That’s it. That’s the crime his chi wants to acquit him of.

Your mileage may vary, but that’s it. I’m out.

(Entertaining a charitable reading here: the novel is written as one side of a dialogue; we never hear what judgement is made against Nonso; and so we as readers are invited to judge him ourselves. But then…that this book thinks there’s a defence for stalking a woman and then setting fire to her place of work because she didn’t wait ten years for her ex-boyfriend is pretty much exactly my problem with a literary culture that constantly prioritises MANPAIN over female safety and agency.)

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