Review: I Do Not Come to You By Chance by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani

i-do-notWhen I first heard about this book (several years ago), I was interested to read it in order to understand the minds and the circumstances of those who choose to attempt to cheat total strangers.

I’ve never believed it to be a straightforward issue, i.e. that scammers are all evil bastards who deserve to burn in hell. I think people do things for reasons that only they can fully comprehend. Every single day, we all do a variety of things, make decisions, and react in ways that apply only to us as individuals – because each of us has different experiences and even if the experience is identical, two people will not react to it in exactly the same way. Walk a mile or two in soneone’s shoes before you judge their actions – that’s what I try to do (not always successfully).

I was added by a few scammers on Skype very recently (see this blog post for more on that) and the experience of dealing with them (I responded because I was curious about how they operate), led me to finally read I Do Not Come to You By Chance.

This is one of those books that are hard to put down. Yes, it’s that page-turner cliche, the one that you stay up all night to finish. It’s not a thriller though; it won’t keep you at the edge of the seat in that way, although you will feel anxious about various characters in the novel and want to know how they fare in life.

The chief protagonist is Kingsley, a fresh graduate in Chemical Engineering; the eldest of five children; the son of Paulinus and Augustina, two individuals who have always believed in the importance of education.

Paulinus and Augustina’s story is what opens the book, and their relationship and their personalities are an important feature of the novel, establishing a few important facts about Kingsley’s background, chiefly that he comes from a family that values hard work and honesty.

Paulinus and Augustina have Masters degrees, but their academic success does not translate into financial stability. They struggle to support their children, and so, when Kingsley graduates, it is hoped that he will be able to help his parents. Alas, despite his stellar results, he is unable to find a job in his chosen field. The family limps on, relying on Paulinus’s pension and the paltry sum Augustina makes as a tailor to survive.

When Paulinus, a diabetic, has a stroke and has to be admitted to hospital, Kingsley is forced to ask his uncle, Augustina’s brother Boniface, for help.

Boniface aka Cash Dady is a multi millionaire who has acquired his fortune by questionable means. Nevertheless, he proves a generous and sympathetic relative, and provides all the financial aid needed to Kingsley and family.

Cash Daddy’s kindness is key in persuading Kingsley to join his scamming business. To be fair, the 419 mogul has no ulterior motive in helping his sister’s family. He is seen as a benevolent dictator throughout the book, sincere in efforts in improving the lives of those who seek his assistance, but dismissive about any suggestion that his riches have been acquired immorally.

Cash Daddy has his own philosophy of life, often illustrated by Igbo proverbs which he twists for his own benefit. It isn’t long before he has won Kingsley over, and Kingsley, as predicted by his seasoned crook of an uncle, is a huge success as a scammer.  However, although the young man appreciates the material benefits that comes with his job, it is the ability to give his family a good life that is the job’s biggest attraction.

This is undoubtedly, a limited portrayal of the 419 scamming industry, and a humorous one at that (several scenes and observations made me laugh out loud), but it is also such a detailed an account that I am inclined to believe that the author researched her subject seriously and thoroughly.

The novel’s central character, Kingsley, is a likeable man – smart, hardworking and loving. When his girlfriend dumps him in favour of someone with more money, you feel like scolding her for being so heartless and stupid.

The other main character, Cash Daddy, is crass and vulgar, but also likeable because of his generosity and family spirit. You cringe when he is described conducting meetings while he takes a dump, but then you cheer when he lovingly provides a meal for his niece who, he shrewdly observes, looks like she’s not had enough to eat for months.

In one scene, Cash Daddy angrily orders Kingsley out of his sight for wearing ugly shoes, but Kingsley is immediately taken to an expensive store and a new pair of beautiful footwear is purchased for him. This is typical Cash Daddy behaviour – a combination of outrageous arrogance and lovable eccentricity.

I think Nwaubani’s use of likeable, accessible characters allow the reader to recognise the human side of scamming. Make no mistake, Cash Daddy is one misogynistic bastard who cheats on his wife and thinks nothing of paying for women to sleep with Kingsley. However, he has many redeeming qualities, which allow the reader to see him as human, not some wholly wicked and self-serving fiend.

Introducing us to the idealistic Paulinus and Augustina in the spring of their union, before they sink into genteel poverty, ensures that we appreciate how steadfast and determined they are: Despite the woes they eventually face, the couple are unshakeable in their belief that honesty trumps riches. However, their idealism is hopelessly impractical. What would have happened to Paulinus had Cash Daddy not come to the rescue with his filthy, ill-gotten gains? It’s interesting to realise that the final outcome would have probably been the same, just arrived at a lot more quickly, and that Kingsley would have taken quite a different path that would have led him to … something better, or worse? Who can say?

adaobi-tricia-nwaubanicsunmi-smart-cole
Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani

As it is, the story ends happily ever after … or does it? Like life, I Do Not Come to You By Chance does not deal in absolutes and that’s what I appreciate the most about it.

This is one of my favourite reads this year – a funny, compelling and provocative novel written in a fresh and attractive style that effectively humanises its difficult subject. Unfortunately, Nwaubani seems not to have written another novel since Chance was published in 2009. I hope this will change soon.

 

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