Foreign Gods, Inc. was set in two places – New York City and Utonki, a village in eastern part of Nigeria. The book told the story of Ikechukwu Uzondu, Ike for short, a Nigerian cab driver based in NYC who thought stealing his village’s war deity, Ngene will solve his financial problems. It also briefly told the story of Stanton, an arrogant and violent British missionary who landed in Utonki with the hope of destroying Ngene, but things went terribly wrong for him.
Life, unfortunately was not good to Ike. A graduate with economics degree who dreamt of working in corporate America but unluckily couldn’t get a job because of his accent despite his qualifications. I sympathized with Ike and thought this was clearly an employment discrimination.
Love was also not good to Ike. He met and married Bernita who agreed to “help a brother out” with his green card. Bernita was in it for the money and sucked Ike dry. He stopped sending money to his widow mother in Nigeria and instead used his money to gamble and sponsor Bernita’s shopping sprees. Eventually, they divorced and Bernita, no surprise here, made out with what’s left of his fortune. Desperate time calls for desperate measures. Ike, out of desperation decided stealing Ngene and selling it to Foreign Gods, Inc., an art gallery in NYC will be the solution to his money problems. He booked a flight and before you know it he was in his village, Utonki.
Back in the village, Ike defied his mother’s order not to visit his uncle, Osuakwu, who is the chief priest of Ngene. Ike’s mother was now a born again Christian and a devoted member of a new Pentecostal church led by Pastor Uka. The pastor, referred by Ike as a scam artist told Ike’s mother that his uncle and grandmother killed his father and are planning to kill him, so Ike must not visit or eat their food. Ike ignored them and visited his uncle almost everyday, ate and drank with him and his shrine’s habitués and still lived to tell the story. At the surface, you would admire Ike for maintaining a good relationship with his uncle, but deep down he was just doing that to gain his uncle’s trust and not be suspected when he finally steals Ngene. While in the village, he was also able to reconnect with old friends including his first love, Regina who dumped him for a rich drug dealer. Regina was widowed with five kids and no financial support. Her husband’s family kicked her and her children out of their home and took over everything her husband owned. Her story was very sad and not far fetched. This is sadly a common experience with some women back home and their dead husbands’ relatives.
The night before his return to NYC, Ike walked to his uncle’s shrine while he was asleep and successfully stole Ngene. I must say I was surprised he still went ahead with the plan because he developed such a good relationship with his uncle and got to learn a detailed history of Ngene, how powerful and destructive it is, and how his uncle was chosen by Ngene to be the chief priest. His uncle’s experience about how he came to be the chief priest was very similar to Ike’s weird experience during a storm. I expected him to mention this or at least recognize the similarity but he was too far gone in his get-rich-overnight scheme.
Stealing Ngene turned out to be the easy part but taking it to NYC and then living with it in his apartment was a whole other story and that’s when things got creepy and out of control. Ike allowed his lust for money to blind and force him to disregard how ruthless Ngene can be. He thought stealing Ngene will solve all his financial problems but it turned out to be the start of bigger problems.
If you haven’t read this book you should go to your nearest bookstore, library or your ebook device and download a copy. I didn’t expect anything less from Okey Ndibe who has become my favorite African author. I gave Arrows of Rain, another incredible work of fiction by him four stars because I didn’t like the ending, but this book I’m giving five stars. It satisfied all my cravings and curiosity. Answered all my questions. And flew me back home to Nigeria for free to experience the life and culture I haven’t experienced in a long time.