An Orchestra of Minorities is a gorgeous book and is, so far, my preferred choice for the prize this year (I should caveat this by saying that I am only 100 pages into Ducks, Newburyport which I strongly suspect is the other main contender). I was left a little underwhelmed by Obioma’s first novel, The Fishermen (shortlisted in 2015), but had really enjoyed his style and An Orchestra of Minorities blew me away.
The novel is focused on Chinonso, a chicken farmer in Nigeria whose love for Ndali, a woman from a higher social class, leads him to attempt to radically change his life. Told from the view of Chinonso’s chi, his guardian spirit, An Orchestra of Minorities unravels along the lines of a classical tragedy.
Obioma handles multiple elements of the story beautifully. Good tragedy unfolds with a sense of inevitability behind every step and, despite the reader knowing how it will end, compels you to follow along. This does precisely that. Obioma also handles his main character of Chinonso wonderfully. Chinonso is at once sympathetic and really frustrating. He keeps making bad choices but Obioma hooks you into caring.
And the narrative voice! It’s superb! Obioma has a deft touch with imagery and whereas Chinonso’s voice reflects his upbringing and limited education, his chi’s voice has genuine a sense of gravitas and heft.
If I had one criticism, it’s that Obioma doesn’t apply these talents to his female characters nearly so well. But I loved this book and it is by a decent margin my preferred pick for the winner this year.