The book is a hopeless love story between Chinoso and Ndali, whose family backgrounds are completely different. The book is also a celebration of love and an eulogy of the loss of love and life. Spanning continents and narrated by a chi, a guardian spirit of the Igbo culture, the story traverses the earth and cosmic spaces and discusses what matters to humans and humans’ many incapability.
Personally, I did not enjoy the book very much considering a lot of narration is redundant and irrelevant to the major development of plots. The narrative, however, is interesting and creative, and the story breaks the narration of “a single story” of the Igbo culture.
Narrative and Culture
— book review of An Orchestra of Minorities
I have read many books with fascinating narratives: The Art of Racing in the Rain is written under the narrative of a dog; The Book Thief‘s narrator is death itself. Like these two books, the narrator of the book An Orchestra of Minorities is unique and presents an interesting perspective to the audience. Moreover–chi (guardian spirit)–narrator of the book– also connects the book closely to Igbo culture; the story is told in the mythic style of the Igbo literary tradition.
Like the narrator Death, chi, the spirit of each human being, possesses an omniscient perspective of the past, present, and future. Having lived for hundreds of years and accompanied many hosts, the “chi” of the protagonist has an expansive knowledge of the world. Its reflection reveals humans’ many weakness and incapability: fear, love, passion, sadness, hate–all these emotions are perceived and understood by the character “chi”. The know-it-all point of view poses some minor problem, however. The “chi” often comments on specific moments or events for being impactful, claiming that the protagonist Chinoso has never been so “devastated” or “desperate” in his life. The sudden jump from reality to the narrator’s reflections is not necessarily a good thing because it stagnates the reading experience, and its frequency makes the plots overly dramatic.
Despite the negative side of the narrative, the “chi” of Chinoso appeals to the audience by telling the story emotionally. The narration of “chi” creates a psychic distance which closes down the gap between the audience and the protagonist’s points of views as the readers are likely drawn to the chi’s narration; the close connection between “chi” and Chinoso also appeals to the sympathy and sadness of the audience.
The “chi” of the protagonist can also travel from places to places at any given time, allowing the perspective to shift from the protagonist to his surroundings and even other places. From doing so, the author creates a juxtaposition of plots, events, and images that happen across a given time frame, showing the audience the bigger picture.
Moreover, the narrative exemplifies the unique Igbo culture. The book already presents a clash between the original religion and culture of Nigeria and the influence of the White. The “chi” calls English as “language of the White Men” and Christianity as “religion of the White Men”. The unique narrative is the remaining form of the Igbo culture, the culture Chinoso carries on.
Even though there are certain flaws in the book and narrative, choosing “chi” as the narrator in An Orchestra of Minorities is undoubtedly a wise decision: the author Obioma presents an emotional, cultural, and impactful tale to the readers by the special narrative.
information: An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma