Life changes dramatically for Benjamin, the fourth of six children, when his father, Eme, is transferred to the town of Yola by his employer, leaving his mother to raise him and his siblings back home in Akure, Nigeria in the 1990s.
Adrift without their father’s presence, Benjamin and his elder brothers, Ikenna, Boja, and Obembe, find a sense of purpose in fishing at Omi-Ala, the local river, where they have been forbidden to go because it's too dangerous. When their disobedience is discovered and swiftly punished, Eme encourages his sons to study harder at school and become “fishermen of the mind” rather than “the kind that fish at a filthy swamp.” Thus adjured, the boys agree to devote themselves to their education. But after local madman Abulu curses Ikenna and claims he will be murdered by his brothers, Ikenna begins to act out—disobeying their harried mother, running away, getting drunk, and beating up Boja. Desperate, their mother counts the days until their father will return home and straighten the boy out. But before Eme's arrival, Ikenna is found dead after his most vicious fight with Boja yet. The family is speedily forced to reckon with the violence that has torn them apart, and the joy of childhood which permeates Obioma’s lively, energetic debut novel thus swiftly becomes shadowed with the disturbing ghosts of Cain and Abel. Although Benjamin's first-person narration distances the reader from the emotional states of other characters at key moments—especially Benjamin's mother in the aftermath of so much loss—the talented Obioma exhibits a richly nuanced understanding of culture and character.
A powerful, haunting tale of grief, healing, and sibling loyalty.