Nigerian author Chigozie Obioma. Photo credit: Chigozie Obioma/Facebook official
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Nigerian author Chigozie Obioma shortlisted for the 2019 Booker Prize

The Booker Prize for Fiction has for years been criticised for favouring American novelists, and for four years running had no African writers in shortlist. Nigerian writer Chigozie Obioma has however beaten the odds as a twice shortlisted author for his novels ‘The Fishermen’ in 2015, and ‘An Orchestra of Minorities’ this year.

Twice might be the charm for Nigerian author Chigozie Obioma. The author who was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction in 2015 for his debut novel, The Fishermen has been shortlisted again.

That year was the second year the prize, which was first awarded in 1969, had been open to writers of any nationality, writing originally in English and published in the UK. Previously, the prize was open only to authors from the UK and Commonwealth, Republic of Ireland and Zimbabwe.

This time round Obioma is recognised for his novel, An Orchestra of Minorities. While his first novel was a powerful allegory of brotherhood, vengeance and fate, his current one is a heart-wrenching epic about destiny and determination in the mythic style of the Igbo literary tradition.

Good Reads describes An Orchestra of Minorities as, “A contemporary twist on the Odyssey, An Orchestra of Minorities is narrated by the chi, or spirit of a young poultry farmer named Chinonso. His life is set off course when he sees a woman who is about to jump off a bridge. Horrified by her recklessness, he hurls two of his prized chickens off the bridge. The woman, Ndali, is stopped in her tracks.

Chinonso and Ndali fall in love but she is from an educated and wealthy family. When her family objects to the union on the grounds that he is not her social equal, he sells most of his possessions to attend college in Cyprus. But when he arrives in Cyprus, he discovers that he has been utterly duped by the young Nigerian who has made the arrangements for him. Penniless, homeless, we watch as he gets further and further away from his dream and from home”.

One of this year’s Booker Prize judges Afua Hirsch described the book as, “a book that wrenches the heart”.

Obioma is however up against stiff competition with the shortlist including previous prize winners: Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie in 2000 and 1981 respectively.

Read: Nigerian author makes longlist for £50k Man Booker Prize

Canadian author Margaret Atwood is the brain behind the fan favourite dystopian novel, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. Her current novel ‘The Testaments’ that earned her inclusion in the list is a sequel set 15 years after Offred’s (the protagonists) final scene in the original novel.

When the 2019 shortlist was announced at a press conference at the British Library in London, the chair of this year’s judges, Peter Florence said, “Like all great literature, these books teem with life, with a profound and celebratory humanity”.

Last year’s prize went to Belfast-born author Anna Burns for her coming-of-age story Milkman.

About the Author

Obioma was born in Akure, Nigeria, but currently lives in the United States where he is an assistant professor of Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Although his debut novel, The Fishermen, did not win the Booker Prize it won: the inaugural FT/Oppenheimer Award for Fiction, the NAACP Image Awards for Debut Literary Work, and the Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction (Los Angeles Times Book Prizes).

In the same year he was named one of Foreign Policy’s 100 Leading Global Thinkers of 2015.

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