Another look at “I Do Not Come To You By Chance” as it becomes a movie – Toni Kan

Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani’s novel, I Do Not Come To You By Chance, is on the surface a novel about the 419 scam,  that hideous criminal fad that blighted the lives of young men in the early to mid-90s.

But it is on another score, a rambunctious and delightfully funny novel about an idealistic young engineer who sees his world turned upside down by tragedy and who then finds himself careening down a very unfamiliar and unexpected path as he tries to meet his obligations and live up to the high expectations of his mother and siblings.

The story of Kingsley and his descent into the murky underbelly of crime is a graphic illustration of the way in which pragmatism often trumps idealism and how reality often hamstrings the best laid plans.

Nwaubani’s narrative is funny in a laugh-out-loud way. Her portrait of Kingsley’s uncle, Boniface Mbamalu aka Cash Daddy is fully realized and well-drawn, while her language is evocative of the language of the street and the denizens of the social milieu she so candidly portrays.

In evoking the larger than life world of 419ers, Nwaubani paints for us, with broad strokes and on a large and very colourful canvas, our very recent contemporary history. And it is heartening to read a well-written novel set outside the usual Lagos locale.

Umuahia and Aba are Nwaubani’s playground and the main character who looms large in this farce is Cash Daddy, a funny con-man with a heart.

Kingsley describes Cash Daddy and his cohorts as suffering from “elephantiasis of the pocket.” They have mastered the art of playing on the greed of white men who part with large sums of money, usually in dollars, in the hope of a huge payday from ill-gotten monies.

Nwaubani’s characters also come up with very funny noms de guerre that an Igbo speaker would find amazingly hilarious.

In one instance when they travel to London to meet a mark, Protocol Officer introduces himself as Mr. Akpiri Ogorogo which literary means “long throat” or greedy one which is a play on the greed at play.

At the heart of “I Do Not Come to You by Chance is a cautionary tale but it is one that comes with a twist.

It attempts to show how best laid plans unravel in the scorching heat of the sun of reality as Kingsley, a bright young man with an excellent degree is forced to work with his ill-educated uncle at a trade that would have given his father a heart attack.

Kingsley is an A-student who has always been flattered with – “Kings, you have fine handwriting.”

A frustrated Kingsley tired of his mother and aunt’s recriminations loses it and let’s rip – “You people should face reality….This has nothing to do with the devil…. Does it put food on the table? Does it pay schools fees? Me, I don’t believe in film tricks. I believe in real, live action,” he concludes quoting Cash Daddy.

A consistent narrative voice helps make Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani’s “I Do Not Come To You By Chance” a well realised novel but there are limits.

Nwaubani captures the folk speech of the Igbo people in her fast-paced narrative and the local flavor seeps through not just in the proverbs that pepper the pages but also in the transliteration of Igbo expressions directly into English.

This works well in reported speech or dialogue but jars and points to a lack of facility with the language as well as editorial laxity when it creeps into the narrative.

We read stuff like “the other two girls did not remove their eyes from the MTV screen’ and “She threw her eyes to the floor.” Then there are people who ‘reversed tongues when good things came in.”

“I Do Not Come To You By Chance”  could have been better served by the services of painstaking editors.

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