SUBJECT: REQUEST FOR URGENT HUMANITARIAN ASSISTANCE/BUSINESS PROPOSAL

DEAR FRIEND,

I DO NOT COME TO YOU BY CHANCE. UPON MY REQUEST FOR A TRUSTED AND RELIABLE FOREIGN BUSINESSMAN OR COMPANY, I WAS GIVEN THE CONTACT BY THE NIGERIAN CHAMBER OF COMMERCE AND INDUSTRY. I HOPE THAT YOU CAN BE TRUSTED TO HANDLE A TRANSACTION OF THIS MAGNITUDE….

 

We’ve all received them at some point. Irksome, melodramatic emails, usually containing woebegone tall tales that spout wildly unsubstantiated claims. The emails typically conclude by stating something along the lines of “If you pay a £25.000 deposit into this international account you will receive a cut of 25 billion US dollars.” Even to the non discerning eye such an email must seem preposterous, however the scams are increasing in their sophistication. Having narrowly escaped being the victim of fraud on eBay myself (yes I was almost caught out – don’t judge me!) the subject matter of this book certainly piqued my interest. “They were just a bunch of email addresses with no real people at the end anyway. Besides, who on this earth would be stupid enough to fall prey to an email from a stranger in Nigeria?” Who indeed?

 

I do not come to you by chance (Hyperion, May 2009) is the debut novel by Nigerian author Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani. Set amidst a pulsating Nigerian backdrop the novel is a skilfully scripted glimpse into the world of the 419 scammer. Nwaubani introduces us to her young protagonist Kingsley Ibe, a recent graduate and the offspring of an English educated engineer who finds himself sucked in to the murky world of his uncle Boniface aka Cash Daddy following a series of not so fortunate events.

The novel is a timely exploration of the real life stories behind the 419 emails. Nwaubani deftly utilises wit, humour and larger than life characters to juxtapose the idealistic existence of the highly educated yet poorly connected Nigerian civil servant, alongside the infinitely complex web of the Nigerian email scammer and the greedy westerner. The revelations into the other side of the game are intriguing, amusing and topical, without ever diluting the fact that real people lose large sums of money to this type of fraud.

 

As the scams increase in sheer audacity, the lines of distinction between right and wrong become progressively blurred and the intelligence of the university educated scammer is difficult to ignore. Nwaubani displays true dexterity in her ability to present a classic tale in morality from a completely fresh perspective whilst inviting the reader to reflect upon the whole tense relationship between Africa and the West.

 

The novel is a gem of contemporary African literature. My only criticism would be that Nwaubani spends a too much time in establishing the background of the protagonist and his family. Cash Daddy’s 419 empire is merely hinted at in the opening 200 pages and it takes almost half the book before Kingsley becomes fully immersed in this criminal world. Nonetheless Nwaubani’s charm, charisma and ability to endear the characters to the reader more than makes up for the prolonged introduction. Although you can’t help but question the validity of the defence of the fraudster when confronted, you find yourself ultimately rooting for their success. I do not come to you by chance is definitely worth the  read.

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