READ IT BECAUSE: You'll finally get to know that Nigerian prince who has been emailing you! In her debut novel Nwaubani follows in the footsteps of Adichie (read my review of Americanah here) as she pulls back the curtain on the 419 industry in Nigeria. For the uninitiated, 419 scams are those oddly written emails that you've probably received before by a Nigerian prince or businessman who has received a multi-million dollar windfall but needs your help to access the funds. Normally the letter ends with a plea for you to pay a small advance "convenience" or "administrative fee" in order to claim a substantial share of the funds.
With an eye for humor and for heart, Nwaubani crafts a classic tragedy that follows the rise of Kingsley as he ascends a 419 crime syndicate. The single aspect that best demonstrates the author's deft writing hands is her ability to humanize Kingsley as he becomes more and more adept at swindling gullible mugus. It's easy to quickly despise 419ers but much harder to explore their (possible) motives in an honest and thoughtful manner.
Kingsley has a key moment of interior monologue about halfway through the book where he runs through a list of all the charitable things his mentor "Cash Daddy" has done with the illicit funds and finally concludes that "no matter what the media proclaimed, we were not villains, and the good people of Eastern Nigeria knew it." This ends up likely being the point of no return for the narrator.
My favorite part of the novel, however, was how perfectly Nwaubani captures the different voices and dialects of Nigeria. It's such a fascinating and markedly different style from American writing. Take for instance how she describes a glass shattering on the floor: "The glass cup dropped from my hand and colonized a large portion of the marble floor." Or when Kingsley spots several egregious typographical errors: "At least nine muscular typographical errors rose from the page and gave me a slap across the face." Initially, this descriptive flair for the hyperbolic was a bit overwhelming but the more I became invested in the characters the more I began to enjoy her style.
As I finished this fast-paced novel, my only regret is that she hasn't published any other books since her 2010 debut. For now I will have to satisfy myself with the wealth of essays and articles she has written since then.
*One of my Reading Around the Continent books--the full list is here.
**See our 2016, 2015 and 2014 Reading Lists.
Other Contemporary Nigerian Writers You Should Read:
I Do Not Come to You by Chance by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani
Last annotated on January 12, 2016
“I think a child should be named for his destiny so that whenever he hears his name, he has an idea of the sort of future that is expected of him. Not according to the circumstances of his birth. The past is constraining but the future has no limits.” He smiled again. “I shall call you Augustina.” Augustina meditated on his words as she walked back inside. Read more at location 226
Ola was the sugar in my tea. Read more at location 434
Ola was a Laboratory Technology student whose family also lived in Umuahia. She was two years younger than I, enthusiastic about academics and knew exactly where she was headed in life. Her fingernails and toenails were always clean. Her hair never stank, even when she wore braids for over two weeks. She always wore her makeup light and natural and she still had some hair remaining from her eyebrows. Read more at location 485
in our society these days, besides paper qualifications and a high intelligence quotient, you usually needed to have “long-leg.” You needed to know someone, or someone who knew someone, before you could access the most basic things. Read more at location 526
One of the omnipresent hitches with the National Electric Power Authority supply had struck. In keeping with their more popular acronym—Never Expect Power Always—power had been cut. Read more at location 896
But we must never make permanent decisions based on temporary circumstances. Read more at location 1078
It was every Igbo man’s dream to own a house in his homeland—a place where he could retire from the hustle and bustle of city life in the twilight of his years; a place where he could host guests for his daughters’ traditional wedding ceremonies; a place where his family could entertain the well-wishers who came to attend his funeral. Read more at location 1098
The nurse handed me a sheet of paper. I studied the handwritten list. The items included a pack of cotton wool, bottle of Izal disinfectant, pack of needles, pack of syringes, roll of plaster, disposable catheter bags, bleach, gloves… “What is this?” I asked. “Those are the things we need for your father’s care,” Read more at location 1227
“We never admit any patient who is not accompanied by relatives.” Read more at location 1234
like many of her compatriots from Edo in the Mid-West region of Nigeria, had a mother tongue–induced speech deficiency that prevented her from putting the required velar emphasis on her X sounds. They always came out sounding like an S. Read more at location 1265
“And he never stopped Reading; he always had a book in his hands. Truly, I’ve never met a more intelligent man in my life.” Read more at location 2155
“Yes, sit in the owner’s corner,” Eugene and Charity chanted. With a modest smile, my mother went round to the back right of the car, where people who could afford chauffeurs usually sat. Read more at location 2531
You know the Americans are much more difficult.” I nodded. I had heard that the American was the one embassy where no officials agreed to have their palms greased in exchange for visas or for keeping closed eyes about spurious documents. Even booking an interview date with either of their embassies, in Abuja or Lagos, could take several months. Read more at location 2763
knew that we were in the white man’s land. Still, I felt a slight shock at seeing so many white people walking about in one place at the same time. It was extremely rare to see a white person on the streets of the average, small Nigerian town. So rare, in fact, that sometimes in Umuahia, people would stop and stare at a white person, some chanting “Oyibo,” hoping that the white person would turn and wave. Read more at location 2918
How could English people have such bad teeth? Or perhaps these were just immigrants, and not real English people. Read more at location 2927
“white man doesn’t understand black man’s face. Do you know that I can give you my passport to travel with…Even if your nose is ten times bigger than my own, they won’t even notice?” Read more at location 2950
Arriving late, no apologies, it was typical. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you a bona fide Nigerian top government official. Read more at location 2984
How could anybody look at Cash Daddy and imagine that his name could ever be anything like Alhaji Mahmud—a name that was more likely to belong to a Hausa person from the northern part of Nigeria? Cash Daddy had the unmistakable thick head and chunky features of the Igbos. Plus, a concrete Igbo accent. It did not matter whether it was a three-letter word or a five-letter word, each came out with its original number of syllables quadrupled, and with so much emphasis on the consonants that it sounded as if he were banging on them with a sledgehammer. The Hausas had more delicate and slender facial features, and the phonetic structure of their mother tongue gave them an accent that sounded almost Western. Read more at location 3030
That was one thing everybody liked about Cash Daddy. He was not a cheat. Unlike some godfathers who reversed tongues when good things came in, Cash Daddy always made sure that each participant in a job received his fair share. In his own special way, my uncle was an honest man. Read more at location 3063
A buja was different from other Nigerian cities. There were no hawkers in the streets, no okadas buzzing about like flies, no overflowing garbage cans with un-clothed schizophrenics scavenging in them for their daily sustenance. None of the roads had potholes and all the traffic lights were working. And unlike in our parts, where a flashy car was the ninth wonder of the world, most of the cars here were sleek, many with tinted windows. Read more at location 3148
a Potemkin village. Mr. Winterbottom would probably never have to cross the River Niger to Igbo land, where poverty and disarray would stare him eyeball to eyeball. Not only was Abuja the Federal Capital Territory and the new seat of government, it was probably the most expensive city in Nigeria. Whenever the masses complained about the astronomical costs of living, the government reminded them that Abuja was not for everyone. Read more at location 3175
Lord Lugard amalgamated the Northern and Southern protectorates of the British Colony, and bundled them up into one country which Lady Lugard had named “area around the Niger”—Nigeria. Read more at location 3308
Blaming problems on 419ers had turned into a national pastime, but then, it all depended on which part of the elephant you could feel. I knew, for example, that Cash Daddy was personally responsible for the upkeep of the 221 orphans in the Daughters of St. Jacinta Orphanage, Aba. He tarred all the roads in my mother’s local community. He dug boreholes, installed streetlights, built a primary health care center. Just two days ago, I received a letter from the Old Boys’ Association of my secondary school requesting my contribution toward a new classroom block. I replied immediately to say I would fund the whole project. I knew what it felt like to endure classrooms that had no windows, no doors, and no tiles on the floors, just because the complete funds pledged toward the project had not yet been collected. So, no matter what the media proclaimed, we were not villains, and the good people of Eastern Nigeria knew it. Read more at location 3401
Note: This is the first time he defends 419
The black paint had washed off, leaving gleaming dollar notes behind. Only the first row of notes in the trunk box were real. The rest were old newspapers, painted black and cut to dollar size. Pray tell, who was that 419er who first thought up these serpentine scams? Men and women had received the acknowledgment of History for displaying less ingenuity in other fields. Read more at location 3598
No, this country was not fucked up. It was also not a place for idealizing and auld lang syne. Once you faced the harsh facts and learned to adapt, Nigeria became the most beautiful place in the world. Read more at location 3726
There were many possible explanations for the atrocious traffic in Lagos—population explosion, insufficient mass transit, tokunbo vehicles going kaput, potholes in the roads, undisciplined drivers, random police checkpoints, and fuel queues. But in Cash Daddy’s opinion, the go-slow started whenever the devil and his wives were on their way to the market. Read more at location 3934
a person bites you on the head without being concerned about your hair, then you can bite him on the buttocks without being concerned about his shit. Is that not so?” Read more at location 4085
In other words, his family were neither osu nor ohu. None of their ancestors had been dedicated as slaves to the pagan gods of any shrine, none of their ancestors had been slaves to other families. And so we nwadiala, freeborn, were not forbidden from marrying amongst them. The first thing my father’s sisters had wanted to know when I told them about Ola was whether or not she was osu. But with Johnny, I had other concerns. Read more at location 4203
Cash Daddy was not in a hurry. He took slow steps toward the couple while one of his otimkpu followed, carrying a small Ghana-must-go bag in one hand. Read more at location 4338
At least nine muscular typographical errors rose from the page and gave me a slap across the face. Read more at location 4482
The glass cup dropped from my hand and colonized a large portion of the marble floor. Read more at location 4804
Really, there was no better legacy a father could bestow on his son than knowledge as vast as eternity. Read more at location 5086
In Nigeria, foreign degrees carried huge respect, whether they were from Manchester or Imperial or Peckham. And now that it seemed as if democracy had indeed come to stay, hordes from the diaspora were shaking off their phobias and coming back home, and people with local degrees were becoming more and more invisible. Read more at location 5100