Not like I needed to add more books to my ever increasing list of books to read, but when I was at the library with my daughter, I spotted this book and naturally, the cover caught my eye. I am legit a sucker for pretty covers and catchy titles and this one delivers on both! Adding to this the fact that it’s from a new author but also an author of colour. It ticked two of my boxes! Read along to this month’s book review.
The book is written from the perspective of the main character, Chinonso Ginoso’s chi (inner spirit), filled with anecdotes and references from the Igbo literary tradition, it takes you out of Chinonso’s perspective and follows the ups and downs of his adult life. The book begins when Chinonso, who is a poultry farmer, stops a woman, Ndali, from jumping off a bridge in an attempt to take her own life. They eventually reunite and fall in love, but he soon learns that she is from a wealthy family and her parents do not approve of their relationship. In an attempt to make a better life for the two of them, he makes one of his biggest sacrifices, sells everything he owns and moves to Cyprus in order to get a better education and be seen as more successful and on par for Ndali’s parents. Feeling hopeful as he’s doing this for the love of his life, Chinonso quickly learns that Cyprus is nothing like he expected and his life takes an unexpected and irreversible turn.
Break it Down:
There is such beauty in the way Chigozie Obioma weaves his words to write this story, I can’t find the right words to describe it, but it is so so captivating and warm. He tells stories like they would have done in the ancient times and you can feel the research and detail through the way he explains all of the spirit gods and rituals, but also the way he chose to explain the story through the chi’s perspective, I think is genius. It allows the reader to see the main character through his perspective, but also explains to you his devotion to his host and the protective nature of the chi. Though Chinonso’s character is so docile and in some ways very naive, (think an immature Forest Gump)I felt like you couldn’t help but love his character and you felt his love for Ndali in its purity. I wanted better for him so that he could win Ndali’s parents’ respect, but another part of me was very happy for him with his chickens, because that was ultimately what made him happiest.
Call me naive, but I was legit taken aback when as the story developed, it became clear that Chinonso was scammed by his school friend, Jamike, I felt his pain so visibly because of how well the author was able to describe it. I had to put the book down for a few minutes in order to process it. He was so thrilled for the hope that getting an education and an attempt to make a better life for him and Ndali could bring that it never crossed his mind when he was handing over stacks of money to Jamike. To be fair the way it was written and weaved, the author gave no indication that there should be any reason to be suspicious, but, I guess that’s the perks of being a great story teller. Yet, just as I was envisioning him settling into his life in Cyprus, maybe struggling with juggling school and work, there is yet another plot twist. After meeting Fiona, a German nurse who befriends him and gets him a job at her friend’s casino, she invites him back to her house for some cake- upon returning (I remember feeling super stressed out at this bit), because I felt like the author was suggesting that he might cheat on Ndali with Fiona and this would have disappointed me so much. Little did I know what was in store, Fiona’s drunk husband comes home to assume that she is cheating on him, he then begins to beat her, in an attempt to stop him Chinonso intervenes, gets attacked and in the rush of Fiona’s husband attempting to strangle her, Chinonso raises a stool and hits her husband in the head. The scene cuts with Fiona yelling that he has killed him and like that- my jaw hit the floor and my brain was spinning. The third section of the book fast forwards four years later, leaving the reader in the dark but also catching them up to the fact that Chinonso was eventually sentenced to 29 years in jail, but was being released after 4 years, due to Fiona retracting her initial statement that he was trying to rape her. While a part of me was happy for him that he was getting out of jail, I was upset at how frivolously Fiona and her husband testified in order to put him in there in the first place- I’m still unsure about whether they had planned it out all along or if it happened so fast and they then corroborated their stories at a later date.
Upon his return to Nigeria, I was hopeful that Chinonso would be able to heal and continue on with his life. It did frustrate me just how obsessive and how much his life was “controlled” by getting Ndali back and while I accept that he really did love her wholeheartedly, I just wanted to shake him and tell him to simply get over her- especially after she’d rejected him so aggressively and so publicly. He was so linearly focused that he was willing to lose customers in his new business, he wasn’t eating, he was probably losing his mind at some points because getting her back became all consuming, especially after he finds out shes married and has a small child. Who could have predicted that his biggest enemy and the reason he began to have such a hard time in Cyprus, would ultimately become his closest friend and the one person he would rely on. Failing in that, he would have certainly lost his mind. I expected when Jamike returned the money he had stolen from Chononso, that he would take it as a sign that he could rebuild his life, but instead he took it as a sign that he could have the life he once had. It really saddened me how a simple act can totally shift the trajectory of someone’s life. In so many ways completely destroy them beyond the physical, but the emotional scars that it leaves is something else. I will let you in on how I’m feeling as I write this 12 hours after finishing the book, I’m a little shook, feeling like I’ve had a drink of water, but is still thirsting for more and lastly, I feel sad. Sad that the book is finished, but also sad how it concluded. I went to bed asking myself a load of questions and asking the author, a load more. I won’t spoil the ending, but I’ll be honest and say that it will come as a shock. I recognize that as you read the book the “chi” does hint that something has happened which is the reason why it needs to seek absolution for Chononso, but never in a million years did I actually guess it would be the way the book would end.
I will admit that it took some getting used to all the names of the spirits and references within the book, some were really complicated to say or even envision saying. I will fully admit to skipping over the poems or sayings when they were written out in Igbo, mostly because I didn’t know what I was saying and I didn’t want to butcher it. I also felt like at the BIGGEST shift in Chononso’s life; the author essentially pulled the blinds down on the reader very abruptly and in some ways not in keeping with the slow detail oriented way he had written and weaved the book up to that point. I found myself wanting answers I never received and in some ways it left my mind spinning. Although I’m putting it down under negative, I can’t really fault the story with how it ended, because not all stories have happy endings, but it doesn’t stop me from being mad at Chinonso’s character- because I am.
Would I recommend the book?:
RnR stamp of approval: Absolutely! It’s a wonderful story of life, love, loss and just deep, deep despair. If not for any other reason to pick this book up because it’s different, it offers a different perspective but also of a culture and “mythology” that isn’t part of the mainstream conversation. PICK IT UP.
The RnR Rating:
4.5 out of 5