I finally got around to reading this book after it had been on my shelf for a few years. I’m not sure why I put it off. It’s one of the most unique books I’ve read in a while. Told from the point of view of a chi, a guardian spirit, this contemporary Odyssey-esque epic follows the successes and failures of a man, Chinonso. Born in Nigeria, destined to become a poultry farmer on the land his father owned, Chinonso makes a series of choices that follow his father’s death that bring him closer to and farther away from his life’s goals.
Chinonso wallows in misery following his father’s death until one day his uncle suggests he finds a wife. He adopts this as his mission in life, and finds himself immensely absorbed in nearly every woman he sees, wondering if they could be the love of his life. He has an intense interaction with a woman on a bridge, whom he believes to be about to commit suicide. After that encounter, his life changes to revolve around his pursuit of Ndali. He finds himself ill-equiped to meet the challenges of her demanding family, and ashamed at his stature in life like he never was before. In an attempt to win them over, he uproots his life and embarks on an adventure in the pursuit of education and ultimately love.
I found the style of storytelling unique in that Chinonso’s chi is making a case for his host. The entire story is seeking to unveil Chinonso’s character, and therefore Obioma draws attention to emotions very explicitly to point to intentions behind behaviors. The chi as a narrative tool can show the intention of other characters as well in a unique and relevant way, rather than the sometimes disjointed approach of revealing thoughts randomly on the page or utilizing dialogue in a way that would be unrealistic. Furthermore, the chi uses his abilities to draw out emotions from his host, giving the chi his own set of intentions and creating his own character within the story. The chi’s presence is fascinating, as the timeline of the story is held at will of the chi as narrator, and interjected with his own experiences separate from Chinonso’s.
I loved this book. It made me think, let me explore other’s emotions, and provided perspective from a vibrant and different culture than my own. Although the book is close to 500 pages long, the story kept me moving along much more easily and interested than did the Odyssey. It is well worth the read.