Skip to main content

An Orchestra of Minorities


An Orchestra of Minorities

A person’s chi is his other identity in spiritland; there always must be another thing standing beside the terrestrial human being. This understanding about the Igbo world creates the foundation for Chigozie Obioma’s second novel, AN ORCHESTRA OF MINORITIES, which is set in Nigeria. Chinonso Solomon Olis is a young poultry farmer, and his chi serves as narrator as well as a guide, a worrier and an always-present companion for his tumultuous life.

One evening, on his way home to Umuahia after spending a day in a nearby village to purchase 12 chickens, Chinonso prevents a young woman from throwing herself from a bridge by grabbing two of the chickens, one in each hand, and saying, “This is what will happen if somebody falls inside there. The person will die, and no one can see them again.” He then foolishly flings the poultry over the rails. At this moment, the chi flashes the thought through Chinonso’s mind that he had done enough and it was best to leave.

"The illustrations and proverbs from Chinonso’s life are beautifully original, painted to match the earthiness and dirt-under-the-fingernails life he leads."

The next morning, Chinonso discovers that he mistakenly had thrown an exceedingly prized wool-white rooster to his death. The chi encourages him to go back to the bridge and see for himself that the rooster has died, but Chinonso refuses to act. So in the first of many situations, the chi steps out of his body to do what a chi must do: become a helper and witness to the things beyond Chinonso’s reach. He returns to the river, sees the chicken’s body, and returns to flash that image onto Chinonso’s subconscious mind. He watches as Chinonso twitches in his sleep, lifts his hand and curves it into a weak fist. The chi relaxes; Chinonso knows what has happened.

Throughout this opening episode, the chi’s wisdom is revealed as is his willingness to inform and help structure Chinonso’s decisions. He has seen much, having lived through many cycles of existence. The events that happen to a man have already occurred before in some subterranean realm, and the chi explains that “nothing in the world is without course or precedent.” Chinonso goes to a brothel, feels jealousy and romantic love --- a painful feeling --- and the chi reminds him that nothing truly belongs to anyone. Once a man leaves a something, he may lose that something. The chi’s all-knowing voice reminds us that he has seen everything many times.

The illustrations and proverbs from Chinonso’s life are beautifully original, painted to match the earthiness and dirt-under-the-fingernails life he leads. We are led into new realizations about Nigerian culture as well as a deeper understanding of our own, thanks to the chi’s wise interpretation and counsel.

The chi considers Chinonso’s extraordinary life events and consequences of his passionate choices to be somewhat akin to Odysseus. However, he also tells us that the end results may not be as satisfactory. He is correct. Each of the choices Chinonso makes is influenced by circumstances and people outside his original realm of knowledge or experience, but the effect of his sad adventures becomes what he knows, which is now his world.

Reviewed by Jane Krebs on January 11, 2019

An Orchestra of Minorities
by Chigozie Obioma

  • Publication Date: October 8, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books
  • ISBN-10: 0316412406
  • ISBN-13: 9780316412407