An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma
Published by Little, Brown and Company on January 8th, 2019
Genres: Contemporary, Fiction
“Indeed, hatred is a vandalism of the human heart.”
I’ve never felt so conflicted by a book before! I’m struggling to write this review because I can’t make up my mind how I feel about it. More on that soon…
An Orchestra of Minorities is narrated by the chi or spirit of a poultry farmer named Chinonso. His life takes a turn when he sees a woman about to jump off a bridge. Thrown off by her recklessness, he throws two of his prized chickens off the bridge, which stops the woman, Ndali, in her tracks.
Chinonso and Ndali fall in love, but her family objects to their relationship because she’s from an educated and wealthy family. Chinonso decides to sell most of his possessions to go to college in Cyprus, but when he arrives there, he realizes he’s been duped by a former school friend of his. Penniless and homeless, Chinonso must find a way back home to his love and his dream.
On paper, I’m supposed to be obsessed with this book. It has everything I’m normally looking for in a story.
And yet, I found myself engaged with the story for maybe 40 percent of the time.
Let me tell you, it was a real struggle to get past the first part. The entirety of part one felt like exposition. Was some of it necessary to set up the characters and the story.? Absolutely. But did it need to drag on for more than 100 pages? Definitely not. Obioma was so focused on explaining the tiniest details that I’m surprised nobody flagged some big issues with the story.
My biggest issue besides pacing was the fact that Ndali could’ve been such an interesting character. But she was reduced to being a wonderful woman in the beginning because she loved Chinonso to a “bitch” in the end because she moved on with her life years later.
Attempting to jump off a bridge is a pretty big deal, but it was brushed over in the story after it happened. Ndali moved on with her life so quickly after that it was very clear that the event was just a way to get Chinonso and Ndali to meet. I don’t know, I’m just not impressed with that event being a “meet-cute.”
Until the end, Ndali was portrayed as someone to be acquired. Chinonso wanted to win her back, she was his to take back. And the whole thing made me very uncomfortable. And we never got justice for her either.
The story did pick up in the middle because Chinonso was navigating this new country and his new life after being tricked by his friend. But then it’s like someone stomped on the brakes and the pacing went back to being unbelievably slow again.
Having said that, I rated it 3 bubble teas for a reason. I did appreciate the unusual narration done by Chinonso’s chi/guardian spirit and the incorporation of Nigerian cosmology. It added an interesting layer to a tale as old as time.
As a contemporary twist on the Odyssey, I liked it a lot. There are several beautiful descriptions in the book.
And that ending! I felt upset for Chinonso and Ndali and their “missed connection,” if you will. But it’s hard to continue having sympathy for a main character who remains hapless and hell-bent on being unhappy.
Ultimately, I needed the pacing to be more even, the writing to be more engaging, and the characters (especially Ndali) not to be so paper thin. But I can see why people love this book. It’s just not for me.