An Orchestra of Minorities is a tragedy written by Chigozie Obioma in the year 2019. The book received worldwide acclaim for the quality of the writing and got shortlisted for the 2019 Man Booker Prize.
The story is told from a unique point of view: by the main character’s Chi or Guardian Spirit.
Chinonso is the protagonist and he is said to be a twenty-four-year-old poultry farmer. The book begins with him driving to go make some purchases when he encounters a young lady about to jump into the river. He tries to dissuade her but then leaves when it seems he has failed. He is ghosted by his girlfriend and groundnut hawker, Motu; he runs into the same woman who tried to kill herself and they become lovers. He finds out that she was dumped by her fiancé of many years, resulting in her depression.
Her name is Ndali and he calls her Mommy because every good woman to him is Mommy.
Nonso and Ndali fall deeply in love, enough to consider marriage. However, there is a problem, Ndali’s family do not approve of Nonso. Their reasons are clear: he is barely educated having stopped school at the secondary level, he is also a poor poultry farmer unsuitable for Ndali who is studying pharmacy at the university.
He struggles to be accepted by Ndali’s family and when all efforts fail, he arrives at a hasty decision. Nonso doesn’t tell Ndali of his plans to sell his father’s house and all his poultry to pay for his education abroad. He confides in his friend, Elochukwu who links him up with a former classmate, Jamike. Jamike is studying at a Turkish university and promises to help him make the arrangements for tuition and accommodation. He hands his money to Jamike and tells Ndali of his plans. She is distraught, but supportive of his decision.
Nonso gets to Turkey and realizes that he has been scammed. Jamike paid for one semester instead of two and made off with most of the money. He meets a Nigerian guy at the university named Tobe. Tobe helps him in the search for Jamike who unfortunately, is nowhere to be found. Nonso gets drunk and wanders about town. While donating blood, he meets a nurse who offers to help him after hearing his story. A visit to her house goes awry when her violent husband gets into a fight with Nonso. The police arrive the scene, and disaster begins.
Nonso finds himself in a foreign jail because he was falsely accused of attempted rape. He spends four years languishing in prison until the couple confess that he is innocent. He leaves Turkey without a degree and loses communication with Ndali.
He lands in Nigeria with anger towards Jamike. When he runs into Jamike, now a pastor at some church he feigns forgiveness. After a failed attempt to kill Jamike in his house, he finally forgives Jamike but not until he served him a soft drink laced with his urine. The two become friends, but Jamike feels guilty and tries his best at Nonso’s insistence to offer restitution. Jamike pays Nonso five thousand euros and helps him in the search for Ndali. Ndali is found to have her own pharmacy and is married with a child. She denies Nonso when she sees him.
We get to find out in the story that a mutual friend told Ndali that Nonso had raped a Turkish woman and he would serve decades in prison. Ndali was pregnant then and so she gave up her search for Nonso and married another man. Nonso tries to kidnap his son and when he meets resistance from Ndali, he feels betrayal and anger.
Nonso is advised by friends and family to move on and he decides to leave town. Before he leaves, he takes his pound of flesh by setting Ndali’s pharmacy on fire. He did not know that she slept there because she had some misunderstandings with her husband. The story ends with Nonso driving out of town as his chi makes a case for him to God.
An Orchestra of Minorities is a well written book with a unique point of view. However, I feel the narrative was unnecessarily long. The main plot was drawn out by several unnecessary back stories and the Chi’s rambling, one could easily get lost in the back stories. The Chi’s defense of the main character is weak: we are made to see how Nonso makes bad decisions and then blames everyone but himself. The Chi’s tales and explanations are also unnecessary. An Orchestra of Minorities was an interesting read which I would rate a good seven out of ten and recommend to friends, but I believe it could have been better if it was straight to the point.