The Biafran War is something of a rite of passage for a host of major Nigerian writers of Igbo origin who had not been born when it happened. In the 30 months it lasted, from 1967 to 1970, in Nigeria’s present-day southeast and part of the south-south regions, three million lives were lost, most of them children, mostly from hunger in the blockaded region. To Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s classic Half of a Yellow Sun, Chinelo Okparanta’s tale of women in love Under the Udala Trees, and Emmanuel Iduma’s forthcoming memoir, Chigozie Obioma will be adding his third novel in seven years, entitled The Road to the Country.
Forthcoming from Hutchinson Heinemann, it follows a university student who goes in search of his missing brother during the War.
The book comes after The Fishermen (2015) and The Orchestra of Minorities (2019), both of which were finalists for the Booker Prize, making Obioma one of only three writers—after Rohinton Mistry and before NoViolet Bulawayo—to be shortlisted for the prize for their first two novels. Of the three, he is the youngest, and the only one to have also judged the prize.
Obioma’s novel went to Hutchinson Heinemann in a two-book deal. The imprint’s publishing director, Ailah Ahmed, acquired the book’s UK and Commonwealth rights, excluding Nigeria, from Anna Webber at United Agents, while Hogarth’s David Ebershoff secured rights to publish in the US.
Ahmed is saying that the novel will become a “modern classic.” She told The Bookseller, “I am so delighted. Chigozie is one of the most important and talented writers of our generation. I can’t think of another writer under 40 who has had two out of two novels shortlisted for the Booker Prize.”
Here is an available synopsis of The Road to the Country:
In 1950s Nigeria, a bereaved seer embarks on a visionary journey into the future of a child yet unborn. That boy, Kunle, is a university student in Lagos burdened with a guilty conscience and who sets out to rescue his missing brother from Biafra, a country at war, only to find himself conscripted to fight in one of the most devastating and under-examined conflicts of the 20th century.
The fate of the seer and the young soldier will merge in a devastating and epic coming-of-age novel akin to war classics such as All Quiet on the Western Front.
“The Road to the Country is for me a return to the subject of sibling rivalry and the search for reckoning explored through the lens of two men who are burdened—one with grief, and the other, with a guilty conscience,” Obioma said. “It is also an attempt to fill a gap I believe is essential: a lot of nonfiction and most of the fiction on the war have mostly dwelt on civilians living through the mayhem. My hope is that this book fills that gap.”
On his new deal, he said, “I could not be more thrilled to move with Ailah Ahmed to Hutchinson Heinemann. Ahmed is a wonderful editor and publisher, and the combination of herself and David Ebershoff of Hogarth US is any writer’s dream.”
A release date has not been disclosed, but it may be next year.