Recent years have brought exciting new novels from Nigerian-born novelists like Helen Oyeyemi, Chris Abani and, of course, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The latest addition to that list is Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, whose strikingly accomplished new novel I Do Not Come to You by Chance takes the reader straight into the world of Nigerian 419s–the scams that begin with an email designed to deplete the savings accounts of a gullible recipient.
I Do Not Come to You by Chance tells the story of Kingsley Ibe, fresh out of college with an engineering degree but unable to find a job. He tries to do everything the honest way (and the way his parents expect him to), but without a long leg, the Nigerian term for someone who knows someone who can help, he remains unemployed. This is a big problem for an opara, or elder son, who is responsible for the well-being of the family. After his father’s health takes a downward turn and his sweetheart, Ola, leaves him for a wealthier suitor, Kinsgley turns for a loan to his uncle Boniface, also known as Cash Daddy, who runs a successful empire of 419s. As the family situation grows more dire, Cash Daddy’s offers get sweeter, and before you know it, Kingsley is the #2 man, assisting Cash Daddy with large-scale scams and raking in the money.
Education may be the language of success in Nigeria, Nwaubani suggests, but it is money that does the talking. Kingsley suffers from initial attacks of conscience but soon he is delighted in the utter confidence and pleasure money brings. He wheels and deals and supports his brothers and sister in a style to which they all too soon grow accustomed. But accepting Cash Daddy’s charity does have consequences–eventual parental disapproval, combined with Kingsley’s loneliness, makes him question his difficult choices all over again.
Nwaubani sets Kingsley’s trip down the slippery slope of corruption against the backdrop of daily life in small-town Nigeria. She never shies away from the illegality of the scams, but she is tuned in to the subtle ways that people justify their involvement in criminal activity, especially when they feel that following the rules has gotten them nowhere. It is the ultimate irony that the globalization that has made the 419 scams so successful has also opened the doors to this remarkable piece of fiction.