I was really excited to start reading Nigerian author Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani’s debut novel, I Do Not Come to You by Chance. The book won the 2010 Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for best first novel in the Africa category and this was my first read by any winners of this particular prize. I was looking forward to perhaps a fresh writing style and the chance to learn lots about Nigeria.
From the time he is young, it is made clear to Kingsley, by his parents, that a good education is the most important thing in life. Kingsley has no qualms with his parents’ wishes for him to succeed in his education and excels in school with great determination, graduating from university with a degree in Chemical Engineering. Out of school Kingsley soon discovers that his degree isn’t worth much in the harsh reality of Nigeria’s employment scene without knowing somebody who knows somebody who has their hand in the pot. Unperturbed by the disappointment of an unending cycle of rejection letters, Kingsley remains determined to soldier on, that is, until tragedy strikes. As financial burdens start to pile up, he begins to feel the responsibility of being the opara (first son) weighing on his shoulders. Before long, Kingsley has abandoned his dreams of working for the oil companies and taken up a post at his Uncle’s “business” working as a 419er. 419 is the section of the Nigerian criminal code that deals with fraud. It isn’t long before Kingsley is living the life of the rich and famous, but much to the dismay of those closest to him.
All in all, I was very disappointed with this novel. My high hopes were shattered less than a quarter of the way into the book, when I already had a darn good idea about how the story was going to go. The story also greatly suffered as a result of weak writing. I mean, it’s not as though Nwaubani isn’t capable of beautiful writing, because there are many very well written passages, but her writing failed to bare any emotional value. There were many scenes that should have been very heart wrenching, but they instead came off as very bland. As a result, I felt zero connection to the characters and had very little interest in what happened to them. On top of this, the way the story developed just wasn’t believable. This is the case, especially at the end, when several plot points conveniently coincide in order to make Kingsley realize his mistakes. There are also several examples of very awkward writing in the text.
“I sat there looking and listening without being allowed to contribute a word. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you a man who loved the sound of his own voice.”
While I got some idea about life in Nigeria, the crumby and overflowing taxi cabs, the poor hospital conditions, the bribing of the police officers, etc., I didn’t get any sense of what the people themselves were like. I think the story would have benefitted from putting more emphasis on the lives of ordinary Nigerians. The only things Nwaubani really tells us are that Nigerians are poor and that Nigeria is a dangerous country. I don’t feel like I have any better an idea of what the Nigerian people are like than I did before I read the book. Add to that, the fact that the story was about fraud and corruption and I am left with a more negative picture of Nigeria than anything else.
I sorry to be so negative about this book, but I can’t help it. There was great potential in this novel, but the predictability of the story and the author’s inability to give her writing any feeling made this a very dull read.
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