(A Review of Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani’s I do not come to you by chance)
What is the difference between yesterday and today? When we sin for those we love, killing ourselves that ours may live, what lines do we cross? In the struggle to make ends meet and turn from being the scourge of society, what sacrifices do we make? And when we reap from the greed of others, are we really to be blamed?
There are a million and one questions like these and others that life places on us every day but imagine this: you are a first son with a million needs. You graduated summa cum laude in Chemical Engineering and have tried every single job opening without success. Add to this: your babe leaves you because you are too broke. Everyone scorns you like the wretched of the earth. Well, truth be said, when poverty chews life’s essence out of you, what else are you? But still putting ourselves in the shows of this man that for a moment we assume we are: imagine your father falls ill and there’s hardly any money to take care of him. He’s admitted…and then you get some really good news; your brother has gotten admission into the university. Before you can cry at this ‘fortune’, your dad dies leaving the burden of his funeral and your family on your shoulders…
Oh well, what next is there to do?
But let us add this part, to make it better for you: You have an uncle is a 419 Lord who has been asking you to come and join him… You have held back because of your family’s high value on education above everything else. They hope you will get a job despite the gazillion interviews you have not passed. So… Morals or money? To follow family honour and the words of your father on integrity or face the challenge of reality? What would you do especially now that the honour of your family is engraved in a life that is now outspent?
Have heard of the book I Do Not Come to You by Chance by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani. It is a novel whose Nigerian versions were published in 2009 by Cassava Republic and more recently, in 2019 by the revolutionising publishing house, Masobe Books.
The above quagmire is the story of that novel. The person at the heart of the dilemma is the narrator of the book, Kingsley Ibe. He joins his uncle and that forms the core of the sweetness of the book. Just so you know, it takes Nwaubani well over a hundred pages to get to the point where Kingsley makes his decision. Well, Kingsley joins his uncle, Boniface a.k.a Cash Daddy. If you think I have spoilt it and there’s nothing more for you to waste your time reading the book to find out, then you have got it wrong. By the time you move forward from there, you might begin to wonder why Nwaubani wasted your time with so many preliminaries. The book delves into the complicated world of Advance Fee Fraud most popularly known as 419 in Nigerian parlance. We get to read e-mails created by Kingsley and the Cash Daddy crew to unsuspecting foreigners. The e-mails are usually from some Nigerian royalty, a banker or former military lord or just someone like that. The recipients are meant to send some money or aid a transaction after which the supposed sender would retrieve substantial money from a trapped account. In some other cases, the monies are paid so that contracts of mouth-watering amounts can be granted. The victims of the scammers range from normal citizens, wives, lovers, corporation heads and the rest. The adventures never end and the excitement is never short as we accompany Kingsley Ibe as he navigates the waters of this crime harvesting the greed of a whole lot of people. However, there’s always a price and challenges appear that our narrator never thought he might have found. While we grapple through these with him, we are served large doses of humour, proverbs, anecdotes on life, and apt descriptions of Nigeria to leave any reader more informed.
Nwaubani’s characters are believable and memorable. From Kingsley’s England trained father, Paulinus to his mother, Augustina and siblings. There is also Ola, Kingsley’s girlfriend whose mother forces her to seek a better deal above love; Aunty Dimma, a successful woman whose mouth was a miracle wonder which she used to lash a whole lot of men; some of the 419 artists and most memorably, Chief Boniface a.k.a Cash Daddy. Cash Daddy is the typical Nigeria rich man who has found wealth from very humble beginnings. He is powerful, frightening, a womaniser, a wise and strangely, very caring man. He cares for his people and is generous. More than all this, Cash Daddy uses a whole arsenal of proverbs that show the depth of his knowledge of tradition. He holds meetings with this toilet door open, without caring a bit, eats with his mouth open, and believes in living the good life. A certain reviewer somewhere said his character is a cross between Forest Whitaker’s Idi Amin in Last King of Scotland and Don Vitto Corleone in The Godfather.
I do not come to you by chance is written in two parts preceded and ended with a prologue and epilogue. The prologue is told from the omniscient narrative point of view focusing on how Kingsley’s parents met. The two parts in between are written in the first person narrative point of view with Kingsley as the narrator. Part 1 deals with decisions he has to make and the blows that life blows him. The second tells of 419 adventures, politics and the life of the wealthy. The epilogue, well, ends it all neatly in a scene that would leave most readers smiling.
The language of the novel is simple while it is richly spiced, as stated above, with lots of humour. There is suspense as readers keep wondering what would happen next. The depiction of poverty, hardship and the life of the common man are near reminiscent of the novels of Charles Dickens. One finds traces of Arundhati Roy, and far more, some Chuma Nwokolo in I do not come to you by chance. The latter author is renowned for his humour which he uses quite well in telling a different 419 tale in Diaries of a Dead African.
I do not come to you by Chance is wrongly regarded, in some quarters, as the first book to deal with 419 – email scams. Wikipedia notes that “Nwaubani is the first writer in the history of world literature to capture the 419 scams phenomenon in a novel.” Her book was preceded by some good years by the equally hilarious Diaries of a Dead African by Chuma Nwokolo (published in 2003).
Certain people might find issues with the novel. The first comes in the long time it takes for the main meat of the novel to come to the mouth. In essence, Nwaubani spends a lot of time laying a foundation for the main part of her novel, which in reality starts in Part 2 (Page 145 Cassava Republic edition; 175 Masobe edition). In essence, to many the whole of the Prologue and Part 1 might well have been fixed into one lump of shorter pages. Some others might fault her overt description of the daily realities of Nigeria like the poor state of roads, healthcare facilities, lack of proper infrastructure, gross poverty and the like as been too much of the usual social pamphlet tradition that most African writers are known for. In her defence, one notices that most parts of the novel are narrated well and humour used to bribe away any boredom that might sneak in.
In the end, Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani scores high in the novel not just with readers but with the critics and judges. The book won the 2010 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book (Africa) and 2010 Betty Trask First Book Award. It was a finalist for the 2010 Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa, shortlisted for the 2012 Nigerian Prize for Literature and was one of the Washington Post’s Best Books (2009).
Well, here are thoughts on that book. It is one of my favourite books and I have read it cover to cover at least three times. I might have said more than three times but you know how it is with exaggerations and lies… Let’s not start another scam.
So, go get reading – it is worth your time. Cheers!
S. Su’eddie Vershima Agema won the Association of Nigerian Authors Joint Prize for Poetry 2014. He blogs at https://sueddie.wordpress.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org @sueddieagema on Twitter.