top of page

A Review of Chigozie Obioma’s ‘An Orchestra of Minorities’

After reading ‘The Fishermen,’ I was eager to read this book and it did not live up to my expectations. Many have called it a modern twist to Odeyssey and I am grateful that I have not yet read the epic poem. I was glad to just get into the book without bearing the burden of comparison, which in most cases is a thief of joy. But any joy that I held before reading the book was obliterated by this tragic tale. Like my previous read, I struggled with this one. Is it true that the ill luck that befalls a person has always been waiting for that person, somewhere bidding its time?


Author’s Profile

Chigozie Obioma is a Nigerian writer currently residing in the United States. His debut book, ‘The Fishermen,’ was published in 2015. The book was shortlisted for The Booker Prize 2015 and is a winner of four other awards, including an NAACP Image award, the FT/Oppenheimer prize for fiction, and several nominations. An ‘Orchestra of Minorities’ is his second book and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2019.


My Thoughts

The book is divided into twenty five chapters in three parts. The story is set in Nigeria and Cyprus. Narrated by his chi (a guardian spirit) as a flashback, this is a tale about Chinonso (Nonso)and Ndali whose paths cross at a bridge where Ndali is attempting to commit suicide. Nonso saves Ndali, they go their separate ways and for about nine months their paths do not cross. Yet in those months, Nonso yearns for the love of a woman whom he is afraid will not love him because of who he is and the life he lives. Ndali’s chi also reveals that Ndali has built a figurine in the shrine of her heart since she had met Nonso at the bridge. Accidental, destiny, two star crossed lovers?

What follows is an intensely troubling story about love, exploitation, Igbo mythology/cosmology, class, familial relations, loss, friendship, abuse in prison systems, the question of fate vis-à-vis freewill, migration and violence. This book was a difficult read for me particularly because it seemed Nonso’s chi in over 500 pages tries to make excuses for Nonso’s repulsive behaviour towards Ndali and all the other characters. From the beginning Nonso’s extremely violent nature is concerning; from the gosling story, his violent tantrum when Motu (a woman with whom he has a brief sexual relationship with) does not honour their appointment, the manner in which he kills a hawk attempting to steal one of his fowls, to masking his violent nature in one of his most pivotal conversations with Ndali at the beginning of their relationship (which I found to be manipulative). I wonder why Nonso felt entitled to all the women that he came across in his life? In addition, Nonso is a violent and vengeful human. Nonso makes some questionable choices and bears some responsibility for his suffering. I did not like his character at all.

Nonso is a young poultry farmer and Ndali is a pharmacology student, the daughter of a chief, whose family rejects her lover and his love for their daughter. This rejection antagonizes the relationship between the two from the first meeting with Ndali’s parents. For me Nonso’s sacrifices are erased by his horrible actions. His move to Cyprus did not cleanse him of his affliction which seemed to follow him everywhere. It is a reality that thousands of people who seek greener pastures are scammed daily only to find themselves in foreign lands desperate, lost and in despair. This book has me wondering how much free will one bears in the face of fate/destiny. Nonso’s problems and suffering are boundless.

One thing that stood out for me was how Ndalis’s suicide is not extensively probed and was left hanging. In addition, the violence perpetrated against women is simply sidelined and this turns the plot into an apologetic text that condones such kind of behaviour. Nonso does not pay for his actions and the chi goes before the spiritual Bechukwu court to plead for his host’s case for a fair ruling. So Nonso saves Ndali from committing suicide so that he could act the way he did in the end? Besides that, Ndali’s character development leaves a lot to be desired.

Here are some quotes from the book:

1. ‘But also, the wise fathers believed that there is a part of time that man can control, a means by which man can subject time to his own will. To them time is not divine; it is an element, like air, that can be put to use.’ page 51

2. ‘For I have come to know that when the peace of the human mind is threatened, it often answers with benign silence at first, as if stunned by a withering blow whose impact it must allow to dissipate.’ page 104

3. ‘…one of the first signs of a man in despair is that he is no longer able to distinguish between reality and imagination.’ page 273

4. ‘A man sits here all day, merely alive, the enamels of life peeling away from him and withering into flecks at his feet. The world conceals itself from such a man. It conceals its deepest and most shallow secrets and non-secrets.’ page 336

5. ‘…the old fathers say that if a secret is kept for too long, even the deaf will come to hear of it’ page 442

Obioma’s use of language is astute. The story brims with Igbo proverbs, metaphors and great imagery which are the fortifying elements of the book. There is a constant foreshadowing of gloom from the first page. The winding nature of this story just makes it hard to enjoy because anything beyond 250 pages for me is a stretch. Over 500 pages? I almost gave up on this book and I feel that the book could have been shorter but I powered through, nonetheless. I am always interested in how authors’ book titles link with the story and this was a great link. It was refreshing that the story was narrated by the guardian spirit, something that I also enjoyed in Akwaeke Emezi’s ‘Freshwater’ which is narrated by several spirits. This book was not for me; misogynistic, quite slow, unduly detailed and repetitive.


Book Details

Title: An Orchestra of Minorities

Author: Chigozie Obioma

Genre: Fiction

Pages: 528

Publisher: Abacus; 1st edition (2019)

Where to buy:

Other titles by author:


4 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page