As a debut novel, Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani’s book is a beautiful start to a beautiful writing career. The protagonist (Kingsley) who is the narrator tells the reader about his ordeals as the first son of Paulinus, a man who believes the ideals that education is the ticket to becoming a successful man. He does all he can to ensure that Kingsley and his siblings have the best of education even though as an educated man himself, he lives in poverty. The story though set in Abia state of South Eastern Nigeria is representative of what obtains in the country as a whole where poverty, struggle and economic instability are everyday tales. Kingsley’s love life is not spared from the hazards of his low economic status. He is then wooed by his uncle, Boniface (aka Cash Daddy) into the lucrative 419 business which in Nigeria is a short code for fraud. Kingsley begins to enjoy affluence and the story builds from there.
Kingsley keeps reminding the reader that he is the Opara of the family. In Igbo, Opara means the first son which is a very big position to hold when the African culture believes strongly in the importance of having a son to carry on with the family lineage. Kingsley desires to fulfil that role well even at the expense of everything that his father had taught him- integrity, honesty and hardwork. All of these did not put food on the table for his family especially when his father took ill and had to be taken to hospital. Kingsley was faced with two options. He could choose to be honest and remain poor, or to be dubious and become rich. He chose to be rich.
Kingsley’s moral compass is lost when His girlfriend, Ola and her mother start to disrespect him because of his poverty. They expect that he plays his role as a man and take care of his wife to be and soon got bored of his excuses. A man is expected to be financially capable and is less of a man if he isn’t wealthy. Kingsley had studied chemical Engineering in a country that is rich in oil and therefore widely believed that a job in the oil sector is a door to affluence and prosperity. No door opened up for Kingsley in spite of his degree and even his father seemed not to like the idea of Kingsley taking a job outside of what he studied in school.
What happens when a man can’t meet up with all the expectations put on him by society and family? The man is pushed to the wall and then begins to make bad decisions. He loses sight of right and wrong and all that matters is if he is able to meet up with his responsibilities. The man with wealth is more respectable and deserves to sit among kings.
The man is not the only one who must meet every expectation. The woman is included too. She is considered a failure if she can’t bare children as in the case of Augustina, Kingsley’s mother who had a delay in child birth and her in-laws became furious with her. They wanted her husband to take another wife but Paulinus resisted it. When the woman fails to be what she is expected to be, she is ostracized and tagged bad just like Aunty Dinma who left her husband’s house just because there is a societal wife code that she failed to meet.
The author may just be asking us to look at how people are shaped by societal expectations. She is asking us to look at what makes people do what they do. Cash Daddy in the book might be a man who is morally bankrupt but we can’t but see that he is only a man who wants to survive and that his story is well replicated in many other people. The dog eat dog world now breeds in us a strong need to survive that conscience doesn’t speak or even if it does, we can no longer hear. The reader may cringe to read what those who are being duped (mugus) had to do to get the money they were giving to Cash Daddy and conmen.
The book is one I can recommend to anyone who desires realist fiction and truth. The language is accessible and has the inflections of Nigerian English, pidgin and the Igbo language therefore giving it more colour. The story and how it evolves will keep you turning the pages. The book will bring out every kind of emotion as you read (joy, sadness, tears, pain, anger etc). Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani gives me hope that Nigerian fiction writers have many stories to tell and they will tell it well.