The Fishermen and Born on a Tuesday

Nigeria has produced several authors and two newcomers are Chigozie Obioma who has written the book The Fishermen (2015) and Elnathan John who wrote Born on a Tuesday (2015). As one of my favourite writers  is from Nigeria,  Chimamanda N. Adichie, I have been looking forward to know more about  younger upcoming  African writers.

Both books are compelling, but different.

The fishermen is a story about a Nigerian family, particularly about the children in the family.  It is set in Nigeria in the nineties. It took some time before I got hooked. The author uses Biblical tales, archetypes and myths to reveal a disturbing and tragic story.  It is about love, betrayal, revenge and fate, like  a Greek Tragedy. Four of the children, all boys, are the main characters . The madman is an archetype, an outcast, feared and respected and his prophecies and spells have a massive impact on the brothers’ thinking and behaviour.

The story is complex, but easy to follow because of the action driven plot.  At the end of the book the author reveals a secret involving the father, which sheds new light on how the family members are entangled. What I found most interesting is the strong solidarity between the brothers, their loyalty and how much it is expected of young boys. It is a man’s world. Although the mother is a strong woman, she is not an interesting character, neither is the father, and their relationship  is obscure. It’s the relation between the brothers  and their connection to the madman that is masterly told.  The author is beyond doubt a gifted story teller and combines his African background with a Western writing style. Although I strongly recommend this fascinating book, I find the story  rather complex, it gets darker and darker and ends unconvincingly.

Born on a Tuesday is a  so called coming-of-age novel where we follow Dental, a young boy, from boyhood to adolescence. It is a more political book, in the sense that it shows how  social, religious and political conditions  pave the way for extremists like Boko Haram.

Dantala (which means born on a Tuesday)  has studied at a Quranic school in northern Nigeria. Religious education was the only option for poor boys.

Having finished school, he joins a gang of street boys who are involved in crime, violence and weed. They are being paid and used by adults to attack political opponents and it ends in a mortal fire. Dental has to run away and leave his friends. We follow him  on his journey back to his home town where he finds his poor family split and tormented. He seeks refuge in a Mosque where he becomes attached to the leader, Sheik Jamal and other boys and little by little, he is recognised for his  cleverness and gets  important positions in the Mosque’s leadership. The characters are well developed, particularly Sheik Jamal and his kind, non dogmatic attitude.  Dental sees him as a father. His loyalty to him is tested when political and religious tensions arise. It culminates in violent and cruel power struggles and killings,and our young man has to make difficult decisions.

The story is told in a simple and  convincing way. I find the character Sheik Jamal particularly interesting. A very promising debut by Elnathan John, who is already known for his short stories.