Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, “I Do Not Come To You By Chance” (2009) – This is a charming little (well, not that little, weighing in at around 400 pages) novel set in the world of Nigerian email scammers. Nwaubani takes her time getting there, though. First, she sets up our protagonist, Kingsley, and the rest of the Ibe family. Igbos living in urban-provincial Nigeria, the Ibes are a family possessed with an image of itself as upright and educated, even if they’re often broke as a result. Kingsley, the oldest son, embodies the family virtues insisted upon by his parents, even as his petrochemical engineering background fails to get him a job and his beloved leaves him for someone who can afford to set up a household and pay the traditional bride price.
Eventually (the book has some pacing issues, which makes sense given it’s the author’s first) the family arrives at such a crisis that Kingsley abandons respectability for a job with his uncle, the flamboyant lord of 419 (defrauding foreigners) violation known as Cash Daddy. In keeping with his moniker, Cash Daddy is amusing over the top, refusing to even see his nephew before buying him “decent” (read: brand name) shoes, declaiming little proverbs all over the place, and generally acting the ham. One of his main enterprises is a setup for young tech-savvy Nigerians to send out the emails for which the country has become, fairly or not, world-renowned.
Kingsley feels bad sometimes about fleecing “mugus” (a term that seems to encompass marks, foreigners, and white people simultaneously) but he proves to be good at it. That, as much as the money, is what hooks him. There’s some funny emails in the text, all in either mugu-speak or the quasi-officialese of 419 fraud emails- one about getting a Nigerian astronaut down from a space station where he had supposedly been marooned for years is a favorite. He uses his money to be a good son and brother and has plenty left over for himself. He travels to Britain to do some in-person fleecing with Cash Daddy in sections reminiscent of “The Sting” and other classic con man movies.
Of course, it can’t last. This isn’t a melodrama- Kingsley never gets caught (and what that would mean in a country where someone like Cash Daddy is a respected public figure along with being a scammer is questionable). There also isn’t a tearful reunion with the original love interest, or even much of a bad comeuppance for her. Kingsley witnesses some bad stuff happening to the near and dear, but by and large he leaves 419 fraud to run legit Internet cafes because of his innate good sense and good rearing. Same with him finding a decent wife among his sisters friends- I wonder if this is an African thing, where American stories would tie things up neater and more sentimentally. Either way, a fun book. ****