In Nigerian Universities where there are not enough accommodation spaces for the growing number of students, people pair with their friends in hostels so that they can have a place to stay. This is popularly referred to as squatting which is actually going against school rules. If caught, could lead to the student being sent out of the hostel. This describes the life of Obi, the protagonist of this novel. He is a Nigerian who like every other Nigerian hustles to live comfortably. However, he does this illegally in America. He is a squatter.
He works for a while in BTF (Boabab Trust Finance House) which was involved in illegal businesses and later folds up leaving him jobless. He then like some other Nigerians leaves the shores of Nigeria to get a better life. Oguine details the travails of graduates in Nigeria. Jobs are difficult to get and even when there are jobs the take home pay hardly takes you home. This pushes many to do illegal transactions just so they can earn a better life.
Obi who lives comfortably during his time at BTF, is awoken to a rude shock when he discovers that the company was going under. Not only that, he had led someone (Sawa), a business man to invest N1,000,000 in the company and he wanted his money back. Sadly, Philip, his employer, had absconded leaving Obi to face Sawa’s temper. Sawa locks him in prison for some time.
Obi travels to Oakland in the United States and faces abandonment by those who should help him. His uncle does not show up after his arrival in his house for some days. The house his uncle lived was far from what he had expected considering how his uncle had described his state of affairs in the United States as blissful. The apartment of Obi’s uncle which is shabby, unkempt, smelly foreshadows the difficult life Obi would face in the States.
In addition, Obi is actually using illegal documents to get a job and is even swindled by his uncle to pay extra for his documents. In America, it is everyone for himself. Uncle Happiness (Obi’s Uncle) was self centered and didn’t mind swindling his own nephew. Obi’s friend, Hook, practically abandons Obi to himself and doesn’t return his calls. The only one who comes to Obi’s rescue is his college friend, Andrew who was the object of ridicule back in University days because of his Christian faith. Sadly, Obi does the same to Andrew and abandons him to face his own life in the United States. Individualism and quest to survive alienates friends and families.
Obi meets Maina at his job as a security man. Maina brags about his near success and how he was at the brink of hitting it big time. Maina would come to the office with files claiming he was going to have business meetings with some important people but that never happens. Obi watches Maina as he deteriorates mentally. The author puts in clear words the mental state of a young man whose hopes are dashed and is unable to cope with that reality. “People had all sorts of loads to carry in this world and he was just not carrying his own very well. He’d dropped out of school, had no hopes of middle class success of his own so he turned with venom on what he had lost; basic, boring, sour grapes. Tales of breakthrough deals were only a hair’s breadth away and myriad ravenous sexual partners were suppressants, but now and again, that acidic bitterness completely seized him…” (Pg.58).
Robo, Obi’s girlfriend back in Nigeria abandons him when she could not cope with the distance. Though Obi had begun a fling in the United States, his love for Robo was strong. It was this heartbreak that opens Obi’s eyes. He had left the certainty of home for the uncertainty of the US. He was on his own. The grass is greener on the other side till you see the cost of maintenance and the sacrifices that are being made to keep the grass green. On a closer look, the land of the American dream can be the land of nightmares too. However, the book ends with a bit of optimism. “America was all around me, immense, indifferent, frightening, but also incredibly varied, challenging and in spite of large corporations who were sacking thousands of people to please Wall Street, still full of opportunities…I also had to strive for a place inside it; I had to find a way to be both apart from and part of this vast country.” (Pg. 196).
The book is one you can read quickly but the lessons are clear. Oguine’s realistic portrayal of Nigeria and America gives the reader the opportunity to also think through his/her own personal choices. Well done, Ike Oguine.