Chigozie Obioma: ‘I would rush to the library in my lunch break to read the Odyssey’

The Booker prize nominated novelist on the King James Bible and finding comfort in books about birds

The book I am currently reading
It’s a new novel by a very promising writer, Amir Ahmadi Arian, called Then the Fish Swallowed Him, to be published next year. I’m also reading, slowly, Namwali Serpell’s The Old Drift.

The book that changed my life
Changing one’s life is asking for too much of art, and something we writers often make ourselves believe because it adds the feeling of concrete utility to our trade. I’d say books don’t have to change people’s lives as much as touch something in them. Amos Tutuola’s The Palm-Wine Drinkard was probably that book.

The book I wish I’d written
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy.

The book that had the greatest influence on me
Hard to pinpoint any one book, really. But if it came to the book one has read more than any other, it will obviously be the King James Bible – having grown up in and around Christian communities.

The book I think is most underrated
Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe. It shows how the West Africans lived in precolonial times, and therefore helps me ground my identity both as an artist and as a person. It is Achebe’s greatest book, underrated because it was not speaking to international politics as was Things Fall Apart.

The book that changed my mind
Will Durant’s The Story of Civilization. It tells the story of the west, the reason for where it is today, and the foundational flaws that – as we are now seeing – threatens its stability.

The last book that made me cry
The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby. It is as moving as it is beautiful.

The last book that made me laugh
Rare for a book to make me laugh, but JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye gets me every time.

The book I couldn’t finish
I’ve never been able to finish Gabriel García Márquez’s 0ne Hundred Years of Solitude, even though I have tried to read it twice now. It isn’t the book, it is that it is too dense that I often feel I need to find a perfect holiday to read it. But alas, I haven’t found that, yet.

The book I’m most ashamed not to have read
The Tin Drum by Günter Grass.

The book I give as a gift
Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, mostly. It is a very intimate look at the relationship between two people in the most dire of circumstances in which the best qualities of a human being is forced to float to the surface: the quality of sacrificial living.

The book I’d most like to be remembered for
I’m not sure I have written it yet, though I suspect and hope that my latest, An Orchestra of Minorities, will endure.

My earliest reading memory
I read mostly the books on my parents’ shelf, books from the western canon and Greek myth. There was a lot of Shakespeare – Macbeth and As You Like It, for example. But my strongest recollection is reading Homer’s the Odyssey in my secondary school library. Because it was in the reference section, I could not borrow it. So every day, during the one-hour break, I would rush to the library, head to the reference room and read it. The librarians often left the page unturned so I could continue from where I stopped. It took about three months to finish.

My comfort read
Books about birds, mostly. I recently thoroughly enjoyed reading The Ravenmaster: My Life With the Ravens at the Tower of London by the current Ravenmaster, Christopher Skaife. It’s a gorgeous look at these beautiful and complex birds and a history lesson on British royalty – a subject I’d not normally not be interested in.

An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma is published by Little, Brown (£14.99). To order a copy go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £15, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99


Chigozie Obioma

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