This heart warming book review caught my attention as I trolled the net for stories this afternoon. It’s a book will look for and buy in hopes that my appetite for reading, once voracious, will be restored.
BY SHAY HOWELL
Bitter, sweet, pulpy, and rich in flavor, Okey Ndibe’s second novel “foreign gods, inc.” reads like the uncracked innards of a strange fruit. Each sentence a carefully crafted, holistic expression of Ndibe’s eloquence, smacks of a master at work.
Here, he gives us Ike (pronounced ee-kay): a Nigerian cabdriver living in New York City. By a bitter twist of Manhattan irony, Ike ekes out a meager salary driving cabs despite his university training in economics. With sweetness, Ike returns home to Utonki, Nigeria, where his family has felt his struggles in New York even more bitterly, subsiding and starving from the intermittent money he sends. His family embraces him as a leader returned, but Ike knows better.
More a prodigal son than a true leader, Ikechukwu Uzondi– “Ike” for short– struggles between worlds, grasping at a tenable solution for himself, his family, and his struggling hometown. Thinking like a true economist, his solution to poverty lies in finding the quickest path to the most money. An economic solution to economic problems.
Okey Ndibe tells Ike’s story with fiery clairvoyance, breaking apart Ike’s conundrum piecemeal. Ike came to America to build a career, make money, and help him solve his home’s larger problems. Finding himself stuck driving a cab instead, Ike becomes obsessed with finding another way. As if flailing in quicksand, the more he tries to solve his own problems, the more he sinks lower into his morass. He drinks to escape his failures and gambles to assuage the notion he is not trying hard enough. Fueled by alcohol, he becomes obsessed with gambling, trying to leverage what little he has towards a promising pay-off, only to ever worsening outcomes.
Desperate for money after two failed marriage arrangements, Ike chases a dream to Nigeria that he hopes will pay off big–for once. He will return to Utonki and smuggle a priceless statue of the war god Ngene out of the country, which his uncle watches over as head priest in Nigeria. In the international art market, he is sure he can get top dollar for this carved deity at the upscale New York gallery called foreign gods, incorporated (stylishly left uncapitalized to hint at the chic trend of capitalizing on deity sales).
Like all that he does, this plan is risky business, most of all for Ike. As a smuggler, he toys with losing all the rest of his money, the respect of his family, even his freedom if the Nigerian police catch him and decide his bribes are insufficient. Ike takes no lessons from the Reverend Walter Stanton, a British colonial missionary who came to Utonki a hundred years previous to displace the war god Ngene. Stanton sought spiritual pay-off in his mission to supplant Ngene with Jesus and ended up losing his mind, and ultimately his life.
Ike cannot resist recognizing the stakes of his own mission, “Death seized his thoughts,” upon returning to Utonki. “Death presented its awful face in the charred bark of trees. It loomed in the scalding rage of the very air. Its scent laced the air, giving it the reek of turned earth and dead, rotted leaves.”
With foreboding tone, every action Ike takes leaves a bad taste in the reader’s mouth. Death looms near in a beautiful silence, waiting its turn in patient, watchful stance. This is the pit at the center of the fruit: toxic, and hard enough to break the crowns In your teeth.
Shay Howell’s home and heart is in Alabama where she was born, but she currently lives, works, and writes in San Francisco. She earned a degree in Africana Studies and French from Bard College after living in Mali.
Culled from nydailynews.com