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Ndibe's Foreign Gods Inc. Is a Truly 'Glocal'
Review by Young Radikum
One thing Okey Ndibe's novel, Foreign Gods Inc., does very
successfully is the melding of global and local issues in one story line, with
neither getting the shirt shrift. Of course, there is certainly more to this
novel which runs all of 330 pages in its hardback edition.
Foreign God's does bring quite a couple of burning issues to the fore: the
emergence of a virulent, superstition-bound form of Christianity in Nigeria
and their criminal purveyors; the looting of ancient African artefacts, and
the perverse manner these items become symbols of sophistication among
civilized Westerners that consider Africans uncivilized.
Ndibe creates highly entertaining drama to deal with these issues, starting
with the life led on the streets of New York by Ike Uzondu, the Nigerian
sojourner for the golden fleece who got derailed by "accent" and found
himself condemned to driving a taxi. In his company, the African-American
woman Queen Bee, with her insatiable voluptuousness and unabashed
demand for pleasure, and the art dealer (gods' dealer) Mark Gruel in his
ruthlessness, come across as very realistic portrayals.
Of course, it's the old story of the clash of cultures, of migration and the
encounter with new ideas and how they influence the redefinition of self.
As Ike fights his battle for survival in New York and bills mount, the deity of
his Igbo village in Nigeria now has only mercantile value; its histories,
mysteries are to be ignored.
For the Christian Pentecostal contagion raging across the land, Africa is
the eternal object of derision, to be pilloried, raped and plundered with
holy fraud. So you have the likes of Pastor Uka, of disreputable lineage,
now the apostles of a prosperity doctrine that unscrupulously preys on the
poor and the hopeless.
When Ndibe follows Ike from the U.S. to Nigeria on his trip to steal the god
Ngene, this reader had an experience that often eluded him while reading
many of those today acclaimed abroad as Nigerian writers. He recognized
the Nigeria the author was writing about in its time and place, minus a few
stretches here and there, as Huck Finn said of Mark Twain. It was a
departure from the grotesque portrayals that often passed for Nigeria.
In the end Ike failed woefully because rather than mend his homeland, he
was willing to sell it. Instead of trying to understand the essence of Ngene,
he was going to betray a barely understood past for personal gain. And he
ends up being drowned in the stench of the general decadence. The only
one who emerges with his dignity intact is Osuakwu, the chief priest of
Ngene, wronged by the Christians, wronged by his nephew. The West, in
gruels the art dealer, emerges with its greed intact.
So all the bad guys got what they deserved, fair enough. But then, one is
left with this lingering feeling: Is that all? So what's they way forward?
Perhaps, that's not a question for Ndibe alone to answer, but for us all who
are in this shit together!