It goes without saying, of course, that [Obioma's] tricks are not for kids and that only a master of literary form could manage to pull them off ... Obioma’s choice of narrator enhances the work’s timeless quality ... In An Orchestra of Minorities, Obioma deploys whatever literary means necessary to retrieve the precious African knowledge that has been lost. It is more than a superb and tragic novel; it’s a historical treasure.
An Orchestra of Minorities is more expansive in form, broader in reach [than Obioma's previous novel] ... [As a result of the narrative strategy, Chinonso’s] emotions can sometimes be hard to connect with when filtered through the distant lens of the chi. This is a story, then, in which the events take place behind a veil, and the intensity of passion is dimmed ... The novel comes alive in those moments when it captures the alienation of foreigners in strange lands ... Obioma is especially good at exposing such instances of casual racism ... It’s a story as old as the epic, but, sadly, an all too modern one.
[The plot] may sound like something of a forced march through the Stations of the Cross, but Mr. Obioma keeps a philosophical distance from the hardships through a striking narrative framework ... Originality is a rare commodity in fiction, and Mr. Obioma’s writing sounds like nobody else’s ... And it’s amid the sweat and cries of humankind that Mr. Obioma is best[.]
To a reader not well versed in the cosmology of the Igbo spiritual tradition, the opening pages are something of a puzzle to be deciphered with the help of a chart at the front laying out the process of reincarnation and the composition of man. But stick with it and the rewards are great ... what emerges is an intricately wrought and powerful study of a man caught in the jaws of fate ... There is also a powerful political and historical message here too ... This is a powerful, multifarious novel that underlines Obioma’s status as one of the most exciting voices in modern African literature.
... a wrenching study of the sacrifices made for love ... Obioma depicts the indignities the farmer faces with rich details, at times even appearing to revel in the contours of his protagonist’s suffering ... The author deftly weaves ancestral knowledge into the contemporary tale of Chinonso even as he gestures toward the country’s younger religious conventions ... Where a less skillful author’s descriptions of inner tumult might register as clichés, Obioma manages to elevate his characters’ transformations ... women all too often serve as either motivation or collateral damage ... Still, Obioma writes with an exigent precision that makes An Orchestra of Minorities feel at once timely and speculative. The novel aches with Chinonso. His triumphs are rare and hard-won. Obioma compels the reader to root for him, to see the poor chicken farmer’s story as an epic.
... beguiling and ambitious ... This epic source material and premise are suitable to Obioma’s mythic aspirations ... The effect of [Obiama's] narrative device is uneven — some of the most imaginative and vital moments in the text occur as a result of the chi’s superhuman timescale of memory, and his ability to transcend his host’s corporeality; however, there are moments early on when the narration draws too much attention to itself ... Obioma’s sophomore effort is imperfect, but impressive in its ambition. At times, his writing feels conservative to the point of regressive, particularly in regard to gender ... Chinonso is pitiful, which, over the course of nearly 500 pages, becomes grating at times. All that said, An Orchestra of Minorities is epically imaginative, heartbreaking, and worth the read.
[The book's] familiar elements are filtered, though, through a mythological apparatus unfamiliar to many westerners ... The ambition is impressive. Taking typical features of realist fiction — solid social settings, plausible motives — Obioma surrounds them with those of epic poetry — men and spirits interacting, cyclical stories of ordeal and return ... Does it work? It certainly conjures up an eerie cosmos in which a human’s thoughts and actions are charged with transcendent significance. The trouble is that Obioma’s commitment to 'eloquent intensity' generates not only maddening repetition but laboured aggrandisement ... Descriptions of the spirit world... read like tests of vocabulary ... But despite flashes of searing brilliance, most of this novel reads sluggishly — its realist pages pedestrian, its supernatural detours like wading through astral sludge.
Chigozie Obioma’s second novel... is a rare treasure: a book that deepens the mystery of the human experience ... The narration by the guardian spirit, who has lived for hundreds of years, allows the author to dispense life lessons in a pleasing and authoritative way ... With the chi serving as a kind of defense attorney, Obioma can more completely fill in the details of Chinonso’s personality and upbringing — to make a case for his fundamental goodness ... This acknowledgment of life’s mystery — and a willingness to embrace it — makes An Orchestra of Minorities a transcendent read.
Readers looking for light and unencumbered need not apply. There is a steady stream of angst and despair as the novel progresses; a kind of fatalism about the individual and society begins to permeate everything ... The orchestra in the novel’s title refers to the mournful cries of aggrieved fowls, the powerless. It is fitting ... It has been more than 50 years since Achebe broke ground in literature by interrogating the Western framework and adhering to the Igbo proverb with which Obioma opens his own book ... Yet it is still exciting to see this approach in fiction today, kind of unadulterated. And so Obioma’s novel remains interesting and important for precisely this reason. It may be reason enough.
Obioma’s frenetically assured second novel is a spectacular artistic leap forwards ... There is nothing tentative about this new book, a linguistically flamboyant, fast-moving, fatalistic saga of one man’s personal disaster ... Rich in folklore and the daily colour of ordinary life juxtaposed with the spirit world resonating all around it, Obioma’s morality tale triumphs through the character of the kindly Chi, hovering over the action as if wringing his hands ... Few contemporary novels achieve the seductive panache of Obioma’s heightened language, with its mixture of English, Igbo and colourful African-English phrases, and the startling clarity of the dialogue. The story is extreme; yet its theme is a bid for mercy for that most fragile of creatures – a human.
... [Obioma's] new book – a mystical star-crossed romance – is more polished, more painstakingly constructed and harder going [than his previous novel], at least to start with ... While [Obioma’s] windy apostrophes seem to get in the way at first, there’s fun to be had from noticing how Obioma tackles the age-old implausibilities of omniscient narration simply by making it straightforwardly magical ... Obioma’s figurative language is rich and vivid ... Above all, once it emerges from the ethereal haze, there’s the story itself, in which things can and do always get worse for Nonso, a perennial fall guy who, at the crushing finale, suddenly turns perpetrator, as Obioma’s absorbing tragicomedy painfully probes the perils of victimhood.
... An Orchestra of Minorities, is a triumph: a wholly unsentimental epic that unspools smoothly over nearly a decade, it is set with equal success across two continents, employing myth and spirituality to create a vibrant new world ... The chi, and all the other spirits the reader encounters along the way... imbue the novel with the richness of Igbo belief, transforming a tale of love and foolishness into a profound study of human frailty and the power of evil over the imagination. In an era of copycats, An Orchestra of Minorities is an unusual and brilliantly original book.
... an engrossing new epic. In An Orchestra of Minorities, Obioma blends the folklore of his country’s Igbo people with the narrative framework of Homer’s Greek classic The Odyssey to produce a multicultural fable that heralds a new master of magical realism ... It’s a special writer who can take the familiar tropes found within An Orchestra of Minorities and infuse them with new life, transforming them into something exciting and unexpected. Happily, Obioma is exactly such an author ... Written in lambent prose and ambitious in scope, An Orchestra of Minorities is no fairy tale, but rather a tragic masterpiece.
Four years [after The Fishermen] and Obioma has returned with a second novel to cement his reputation. An Orchestra of Minorities is grander in scope than its predecessor – at the outset forbiddingly so ... Once the novel gets under way, we find ourselves immersed in a captivating drama about one man’s quest to defy the odds, overcome numerous hardships and win back the woman of his dreams ... Like The Fishermen, this novel employs allegory to good effect, with Obioma subtly, not showily, inviting comparisons and making echoes ... It isn’t often that a novel’s narrator overshadows its main character, and yet that is precisely the case here. A brilliant conceit, Chinonso’s blithe spirit works regular wonders: illuminating Igbo mythology, enchanting us with detours to heavenly realms, and entrancing us with a gripping account of its host’s travels and travails ... An Orchestra of Minorities is a stunning novel which succeeds on so many levels. This time around Obioma deserves every accolade that comes his way.
By having Chinonso’s chi serve as storyteller, Obioma alchemizes his contemporary love story into a mythic quest enhanced by Igbo cosmology, centuries of history revealed through glimpses of the chi’s past hosts, elements of autobiography conjuring Obioma’s own Cyprian education and his meeting a fellow Nigerian whose dire experiences initially sparked the novel. Magnificently multilayered, Obioma’s sophomore title proves to be an Odyssean achievement.
The Odyssey is mentioned offhandedly on a couple of occasions, but An Orchestra of Minorities plays like a dark satire of that foundational text of Western literature ... If anything, Obioma seems to use Igbo mythology to counter the Western story of a man bravely venturing home, showing how the tales of the white man cannot be conveniently grafted over the suffering of Nigerians at the hands of colonialism and European culture ... Readers unfamiliar with Nigeria will come away with a deeper understanding of Igbo culture and tradition, with the chi narrator serving as a guide to them as well as Chinonso ... a powerful look at the opportunities and ruin that lay before a man in pursuit of his dreams.
If this sounds heartbreaking, it is. But somehow the book is never bleak — never depressing. Amazingly, one does not come away from reading An Orchestra of Minorities feeling hopeless. This, of course, is a testament to the enormous talent of this [Obioma] ... With his singular storytelling style, compelling voice and nuanced view of humanity, Obioma brings the hardships of the oppressed to life, balancing violence, brutality and deprivation with the tenacity of the human spirit and its limitless ability to endure, to transform, to love and to forgive.
... a visceral widescreen epic ... [Obioma’s] is a bracing and searing work that compresses an ordinary life into an epic journey ... And with An Orchestra of Minorities [Obioma] has again worked with rudiments that feel familiar, yet presented them in a way that feels entirely new.
An Orchestra of Minorities is big novel of exile and tribulation, acted out, at one level, in a mythical realm, a cosmological territory crammed with sprits unfamiliar to most Western readers. At another level, the novel teems with people busy with down-to-earth matters of daily living, these often described by our disembodied narrator with dry, gloom-dispelling humor. The presence of this kindly chi, so concerned for the welfare of his hapless charge, makes this rich and tragic story bearable and rewarding.
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 ... 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.
The book operates on both physical and spiritual levels, presenting thought-provoking and sage observations about the nature of loneliness and jealousy, among other things. Indeed, though the love story that moors the book is dramatic and lends itself to comparisons with similarly epic romances such as The Odyssey—a point not lost on Chinonso’s chi—the book tells a distinctly Nigerian story that considers the gambits people are willing to make in an effort to rise above their lot ... A deeply original book that will have readers laughing at, angry with, and feeling compassion for a determined hero who endeavors to create his own destiny.
Unforgettable ... electrifying, a meticulously crafted character drama told with emotional intensity. His invention, combining Igbo folklore and Greek tragedy in the context of modern Nigeria, makes for a rich, enchanting experience.