I Do Not Come to You by Chance is a comic novel about the life and times of Kingsley, a young 419er. A 419er, we learn, is a nickname given to those in Nigeria who run email scams, and fittingly enough, refers to the section of the penal code under which such crimes are prosecuted. Within Kingley’s story, is presented a broad picture of contemporary Nigeria, in a novel that is both witty and well observed.
The story begins with Kingsley’s parents, both of whom believe fervently in education as the only true route to success and happiness in life. Kingsley’s father is an honest civil servant, which in contemporary Nigeria unfortunately means he is very poor. Here is Kingsley on his scanty dinner one night:
“But what I had in front of me were a midget sized piece of meat, bits of vegetable, and random specks of egusi, floating around in a thin fluid that looked like a polluted stream. The piece of meat looked up at me and laughed. I would have laughed back but there was nothing funny about the situation at all.”
Kingsley’s father becomes sick, and in desperation Kingsley goes to their rich relative, Cash Daddy, a completely uneducated man who has had acquired staggering wealth as a 419er. At first horrified by much about Cash Daddy, in particular his love of what the Nigerians call 404 (dog meat) Kingsely is eventually drawn into the world of the 419. He becomes immensely wealthy himself, travels internationally, pays for all his relatives’ needs and schooling, and is deeply hurt when those same relatives condemn him as a criminal. He comments:
“I always find it funny when people say that money makes people proud. If you check it, poor people are some of the proudest people in the world.”
This tension, between the rich and the poor, between what you owe to yourself, and what you owe to your family, is at the centre of this novel. I Do Not Come to You by Chance is however by no means a serious book. Nwaubani has a real comic gift, and her novel is often very funny. She also has a uniquely quirky and joyful narrative voice. Here is Kingsley meeting with a government minister:
“Over breakfast, we chatted about the wind and the waves and about life and times. Throughout, the minister was as jolly as a shoe brush.”
And here is a woman Kingsely sits next to on a bus:
“Wedged on my right was an abundantly bottomed lady who chomped her pungent breakfast of boiled eggs and bread with noisy gusto.”
Many African novels seem to me to be written with one eye to a Western market, to presenting their country in a way that educates a Western reader. This novel is entirely free of this kind of self-consciousness, and is all the better for it, being a fun and straightforward story that, while set in Nigeria, does not attempt to defend or explain that country. I Do Not Come to You by Chance is not a perfect novel; there are some occasions when the plot sags a little, and not all of it is entirely plausible; but it is a very entertaining read, and an interesting window into one aspect of Nigerian life.
The original edition of Nwaubani’s I Do Not Come to You by Chance, was published in 2009 by Hyperion.
Sarah Norman is a Zimbabwean who splits her time between Harare and Nairobi. She documents her reading life in the blog White Whale (www.booksof2010.blogspot.com)