Love and loathe.
Synopsis of I Do Not Come to You by Chance by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani: Being the opara of the family, Kingsley Ibe is entitled to certain privileges--a piece of meat in his egusi soup, a party to celebrate his graduation from university. As first son, he has responsibilities, too. But times are bad in Nigeria, and life is hard. Unable to find work, Kingsley cannot take on the duty of training his younger siblings, nor can he provide his parents with financial peace in their retirement. And then there is Ola. Dear, sweet Ola, the sugar in Kingsley's tea. It does not seem to matter that he loves her deeply; he cannot afford her bride price.
For much of his young life, Kingsley believed that education was everything, that through wisdom, all things were possible. Now he worries that without a "long-leg"--someone who knows someone who can help him--his degrees will do nothing but adorn the walls of his parents' low-rent house. And when a tragedy befalls his family, Kingsley learns the hardest lesson of all: education may be the language of success in Nigeria, but it's money that does the talking.
My two centsSet in Nigeria, this is a coming-of-age story of a young man who finds out, the hard way, that money can't buy everything.
Disillusioned that his education didn't assure him of a good job, and becoming increasingly desperate for money, Kingsley decides to sell out: he takes a "job" with his moneyed-yet-uneducated uncle -- his education becomes really handy in the elaborate and complicated business of scamming people through email.
But you reap what you sow, as the adage goes. While Kingsley's success funds crucial moments in his and his family's life, Kingsley learns that his values and his integrity are all that really matter.
This novel has so many things going for it.
The most outstanding for me, despite its sordidness, is a peek into the internet scammers' world. While many will automatically judge this as plainly bad, the reasons for entering this "profession" are rife with poverty, hopes of a better life, and even of desperation. I was fascinated with the resourcefulness, the complexity, and just how 419 scam culture preys on human nature's goodness and psychology. Kingsley's education, people skills and plain hard work become critical skills in his success -- can you imagine if his skills were actually put to good use?
Another eye-opener was to Nigerian culture and way of life: the pressures on a first born, the high value put on education, the price of marrying, the sense of community to a fault. And the unjust yet real picture of the poverty of the majority while corruption happens (and even condoned) in the high places, where what matters to make even more money is who you rub shoulders with.
Those who haven't lived in or been exposed to cultures where poverty is a given, this may seem a little shocking in places. It's what I liked about this novel -- it tells it like it is, with no romantic or cliched notions about it. Take for example the scene at the hospital where Kingsley and his family had to buy even the smallest medical supplies, instead of the hospital dispensing them. If this happened in the US or Canada, I am betting that people would be suing the hospital for all its worth. In Nigeria (and in many other parts of the the world), you suck it up and do the best you can -- people know that the problem is a given, sadly systemic, and that change is not apt to happen in the short haul.
While the fatalism stressed in this novel seems disheartening, it also plays a huge role in shaping people's attitudes.
Kingsley, and Nigeria as a country, is a bundle of contradictions -- good at the core but driven to desperate measures. Anyone who loves their country or a person but recognizes how wretched it/he is at the same time will love this book. Love and loathe all rolled into one.
Verdict: An eye-opener of a book about the moral dilemma of how poverty can drive people to a resourceful survival at the expense of integrity. While set in a Nigeria, readers will be able to relate to the timeless values of providing for and taking care of family, and the hope for a better life.
I highly recommend this to those interested in other cultures, who like to explore human dilemmas, and who are ready to see the world through another culture's eyes.
Thanks to Debbie of Ex Urbanis for this giveaway copy during the Literary Blog Hop Giveaway!