It’s been a crazy few days for me, but I can proudly say that I have several good posts in the works, including this one…it’s another book review! I finished two books this week, one fiction, and one theory. For my fiction selection, I traveled to Nigeria with Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani in I Do Not Come To You By Chance.
I decided that I’m not too huge into writing detailed synopses anymore – you can find them online, in other places, and I hate being on the precipice of an unwanted spoiler alert – so I’ll paint some broad strokes for context. Enjoy this music video while you read:
The book’s protagonist, Kingsley O. Ibe, called “Kings” by many, is a young university graduate from Umuahia, which is actually a real city in Abia State, Nigeria. After completing a degree in chemical engineering, he finds himself down on his luck on two fronts: he can’t find a job in his field (been there, sigh) and his childhood girlfriend, Ola, is being kind of a bitch to him. His family is educated but poor, and in a sad turn of events, his father suffers a massive stroke and has to go to the hospital. It is here that the reader finds out that hospitals in Nigeria are just as corrupt as anything in a money-driven society, and if the family can’t pay for literally everything their father needs, down to bedsheets and latex gloves for the doctors, he’ll be out on the street. Just when it seems like their numbers are up, Kings suggests to his mother that he seek out Uncle Boniface, who seems to have quite a bit of money; enough so that they call him “Cash Daddy.” Against his mother’s wishes, he does so. His uncle takes to him, and he is slowly swept up into the world of 419 scams, AKA those strange emails you get promising you millions of dollars from some deceased African prince/billionaire/widow/deposed leader, if you just send some money somewhere in Africa via Western Union. People actually fall for those emails, funneling money toward a cash payout that will never come. This is also where the title of the book comes from; Kingsley, having a university education, has a knack for writing convincing and letter-perfect emails, with phrases such as “I do not come to you by chance.”
Part II takes place some time in the future. Kings has gotten rich off of his uncle’s “business,” and has been sharing the wealth among his siblings. His father has passed away, and his mother just wants him to quit scamming, get a real job, and get married. We follow Kings on trips to London and Amsterdam, meeting with “mugus,” or their scam bait, and his high-priced hijinks. Kingsley also escorts a wealthy “investor” around Nigeria, forming an odd friendship and causing him to reconsider his life choices. He also, reluctantly, becomes a patron of prostitutes, thanks to his uncle’s meddling, once he finds out that Kings is not yet over Ola. Speaking of the devil, he randomly reconnects with Ola, now married and a mother, but based on his current occupation (and the fact that she’s married, and a mother) she rejects him. Meanwhile, Cash Daddy is running for office, due to his high reputation and Kings’s siblings are having issues of their own and in need of their brother’s help. The fall of Kingsley begins when he falls for Merit, a prostitute, who ultimately rejects him for his chosen career; then an episode in which he lashes out at his materialistic brother Godfrey for expressing interest in following in his father’s footsteps. When Cash Daddy’s empire falls to him as an heir, he takes the keys to the office but immediately rejects them, wanting more out of life.
The epilogue is quite telling; like the prologue, it is narrated not by Kingsley but by his mother. Kingsley has used his ill-begotten millions to create a chain of Internet cafes around Nigeria, emphasizing that they are not to be used for illegal activity. When his mother visits him at work, she sees him dispelling a heated argument with grace, and begins to accept his changes. Kingsley is now married, not to Ola or Merit but to a minor character who is friends with his sister, and is running a legitimate business with the help of his wealthy investor friend.
Wow, that was more than brief, but I could’ve gotten a lot more in depth, so good for me.
I’d give this book a 3.5 to 4 out of 5. Taking into consideration that this is the author’s first novel, that’s not that bad of a rating. Other readers on Amazon and Goodreads have criticized Nwaubani’s awkward structure of using an entirely different character to bookend the story, as well as “poor spelling, grammar, and sentence structure.” Personally, I didn’t find this to be a problem at all; I took it as a mark of the author’s style, and it contributed to the authenticity of the novel. I found myself getting really invested in Kingsley and his struggle thanks to the language and his endearing optimism.
Plot-wise, there is some weird stuff going on, but what I appreciated about it was that Nwaubani did not tie up all the loose endings. Life is not like that; sometimes things work out for the best, like Kingsley’s career, and sometimes, they don’t, like Kingsley’s love life. I think that it would have been an easy out to have Ola come back and beg for forgiveness, and I’m glad that didn’t happen. Kingsley not coming to a terrible demise was not unexpected, but there’s something to be said about forming a legitimate business with illegitimately-acquired money, an ethical dilemma that Nwaubani leaves behind as a gift to the reader.
Overall, it’s a less-conventional novel that probably isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but if you like a nontraditional structure, an open mind, and an interest in Africa, this might be the book for you. It wasn’t the perfect book by any means, but it was well worth my time. According to some promotional material, I Do Not Come To You By Chance is the first novel written from the point of view of a 419 scammer. I’m not sure I believe that, but, just like an elderly Nigerian businessman who really does have several million dollars to give to a total stranger, it could be true.
Probably little more likely the former than the latter, but who knows?