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Foreign Gods, Inc. by Okey Ndibe

Foreign Gods, Inc.

by Okey Ndibe

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1475115,120 (3.77)25

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Showing 5 of 5
Book feels incomplete. It did so well in the first third, but then it steadily went downhill from there. It's the store of Ike, a Nigerian immigrant who lives in New York as part of the grey, shadowy not quite underworld of immigrants. While he went to Amherst, he has been unable to find full-time, steady work that pays better for a variety of reasons and has also been unable to gain a green card.
In desperation he thinks he'll steal a statue of Ngene: a war god in his home village to an uptown New York gallery. He'll be rich, he thinks. All of his problems will go away.
This really didn't work. At first I thoroughly enjoyed his perspective of being an immigrant in New York: a cabdriver who sees and knows quite a bit. Some of his observations are downright hilarious and his struggles are painful, awkward, and sometimes harrowing. Then we take off for the adventure in Nigeria.
From here the book begins to slowly but surely slide downhill. It's clear that Ike no longer fits in back home, perhaps just as he does not have a place in New York. Not only are his experiences in American are fetishized (he gets special treatment, people begging for money, etc), he finds his family in the thralls of a priest preaching about God, sin, and of course asking for money.
His time in Nigeria was frustrating, not just for the above. The book slows down a lot and it seemed repetitive. Arguments with his mom over God, finding a Christian wife, etc. Seeing his uncle and hearing stories about his father. Seeing old faces and seeing how they've changed (or not). Honestly, the religious stuff bored me. I understand this is something that does happen and can happen but it just seemed so cliched and such a tired device that I wasn't particularly moved or even interested.
In the very end we go back to New York. Without giving much away, I have to say that this was frustrating. Was it meant to be open-ended and the reader left to imagine that Ike is about to be arrested/deported/close to death/off on another adventure? Was this leaving it open for a sequel? Was this just supposed to be the end of Ike's story?
After reading a few books about immigrants/refugees recently I can't help but be thoroughly disappointed. I held onto this one for quite awhile after buying it on sale from Barnes & Noble. It wasn't worth the purchase and I wish I had borrowed it from the library instead. ( )
  acciolibros | Feb 11, 2018 |
3.5 out of 5. Ultimately, this book is something less than the sum of its parts – excellent though those parts may be. Ndibe has a sharp eye for the realities on the ground both in Nigeria and in the States – but there are two different types of story here and neither of them fully commands the tale at hand. As a result, I found myself just sort of shrugging the book away as I finished it, despite it having started off so strong.

Originally found at TNBBC: http://thenextbestbookblog.blogspot.com/2014/01/drew-reviews-foreign-gods-inc.ht...
and RB: http://ragingbiblioholism.com/2014/01/02/foreign-gods-inc/ ( )
  drewsof | Sep 30, 2015 |
A young Nigerian with a degree in economics goes to the US to pursue the American dream, which he soon realizes is actually a myth, as his job hunting efforts prove fruitless and he ends up driving a cab, and unwisely hooks up with a greedy, demanding American woman. He gets the idea of going back to Nigeria to steal and eventually sell his home village's deity.

Once back in his village, we are presented with a vivid portrayal of colorful characters and conflicting beliefs that inevitably arise due to the cross-cultural confusion that globalization has wrought. Even the hapless 'hero', Ike, is a castaway in his own nebulous existence stripped of cultural identity.

Although many readers found Ike unlikable, he gained my sympathy despite his narrow relentless pursuit of financial success and other character flaws, even as he is overwhelmed by the futility of his own efforts.

While the novel is actually a serious commentary on how the new culture of materialism has overshadowed traditional values, as well as a scathing critique of a corruption in Nigeria, it is made utterly enjoyable by a keen drollness that is wrapped in the unique wit of a distinctly West African flavor.
( )
  BBcummings | Dec 24, 2014 |
This picaresque bildungsroman, spiked with folktales, horrors, and gorgons aplenty, features a young man seeking his fortune in an un-fortun-ate world. The young man discovers instead his own base nature. To be honest, I thought this was going to be a funny, light-hearted read. I have grown accustomed to comic novels that harbor hideous truths. But Ndibe does something entirely different with this fiction. He uses a nineteenth or early twentieth-century sensibility and style in this novel with some success, and creates a tragi-comic naïf for whom we reserve a special pity. Only the time frame of the novel and its actual language are modern: the rest is as old as man himself.

Ike (pronounced Ee-kay) is a Nigerian immigrant to the United States. Although he attended a fancy New England college and graduated magna cum laude in economics, his thick Nigerian accent bars him from landing a job in his field. He struggles to find paying employment, finally landing a job as a taxicab driver. At the same time he searches for a wife to give him the infamous green card legal status he requires for higher paying low-level jobs for which he is (over)qualified.

This lacerating novel peels back the veneer to uncover the reality of immigrant life in the United States and in the home country for an educated man. Ike struggles mightily to rustle up the needed cash to return home in response to repeated requests by his family, but he also uses his visit to Nigeria to steal the effigy of a deity from his native village to sell on the New York art market. With this, he plans to vanish his financial woes and make his fortune.

Whirled about and confused in the maelstrom of humanity on two continents, Ike resembles a modern Don Quixote, though he seeks the good life promised by America rather than the chivalry, human goodness, and true love sought by Quixote. Like Quixote, Ike comes to his senses occasionally, only to sink back into a feverish belief that his dreams will come true. Comic elements abound (two bribe-taking customs sessions, a visit to a corrupt politician’s home, an interview with a Nigerian Christian pastor, as well as the absurdity of a high-end art market for religious deities), and although we are ready to laugh through much of the book, we come to realize this horrible dream is really true, and Ike is desperately spiraling out of control into the black hole of penury and despair.

Foreign Gods reads like a big short story, partly because of the ending, and partly because the time frame is short. We have character development but not resolution. We grow to like, if not admire, the character of Ike. He is more acted upon than actor, since he can’t seem to come to grips with the world in which he lives. He is perhaps not very clever, despite his degree, for he is guilty of the basest naiveté when it comes to his get-rich-quick plan. He is a good man at heart, but we onlookers know that will probably not be enough to get him through.

And if our reactions are not enough, here is Janet Maslin's take at the New York Times. This book was sent to me by Soho Crime in return for an honest review.

( )
1 vote bowedbookshelf | Mar 8, 2014 |
first: My thanks to Soho, who sent me this novel -- I am so happy I got a copy because it's amazing.

second: I'm skipping the plot here, but if you want to read about it, you'll find it on my reading journal page.

This book is one of those novels that you don't fully appreciate with only one read; nor do you fully appreciate it until you've let time pass and allow it to settle into your brain. The premise is very different, the writing is first class, and frankly, even the ending is unlike anything I've ever seen before. It's the story of one African immigrant for whom the dream has become a veritable nightmare -- and the unorthodox way in which he tries to remedy things for himself.

The book is definitely good in its brief examination of immigrant experience in America, but the best parts of this novel take place in the small Nigerian village that is the main character's (Ike) home. A reader can lose himself/herself here, caught up in the people who inhabit this place. It is a place where corruption abounds; where the capitalist present and traditional past meet head to head; where Christianity is in conflict with local religious tradition and divides the locals, even within families. It is a place where so much has changed while Ike's been gone that people from his past are hardly recognizable in the way he remembers them, and not always for the better. It's a place where everyone assumes that just because Ike is in America, he's living the dream. It is also a place with its own "foreign gods," who hold out promises of their own for those who dream of something better, as in one scene where Michael Jordan becomes a deity in his own right. As crazy as this entire story is, it is definitely the Nigerian characters and their colorful language who make Foreign Gods, Inc. the wonderful novel it turns out to be, especially Ike, who clearly has a foot in both worlds. They range from the scamming church pastor to Ike's uncle and the chief priest of the deity Ngene, to Ike's mother who is worried that Ike will be possessed by demons by hanging out with said uncle, and to Ike's first love, whose life turned out so badly that he hardly recognizes her. Thematically, this is a rich book -- well beyond being just another take on the immigrant experience, there's much to say here about art, about conflict (especially inner conflict within a troubled and divided soul), about religion, about the importance of the past and tradition vs. the modern world; you also get a look at the very male-oriented culture in this country, the colonial aspects, and there's also quite a lot in here about the power of stories. The river is also ever present throughout this book, as a source of life, power and conflict.

For me, it was almost like reading a "quest" sort of story with a conflicted main character who faces a number of obstacles before he can reach his intended goal. However, the strange but highly appropriate ending is unlike anything I've experienced before -- seriously, it was almost at the edge of surreal, something along the lines of the bizarre endings in novels of many works of weird fiction I've read. Its abruptness immediately leaves pause for the reader to conjure in his or her head exactly what's going on here, and it's a stunner. Foreign Gods, Inc. is a novel I highly, highly recommend, one that casual readers like myself can fully enjoy. It's a book that I know is going to stay with me a very long time. ( )
  bcquinnsmom | Jan 16, 2014 |
Showing 5 of 5
The wooden deity "has character, an audacious personality," says one non-African who sees it. So does Ndibe's novel, a page-turning allegory about the globalized world. In "Foreign Gods Inc.," Ndibe links Manhattan to a village in Africa and shows just how great the distance between them really is.
Foreign Gods, Inc is a morality tale for our time. The planned theft makes perfect sense on a continent where diamonds, coltan and oil are routinely extracted and shipped away, with no real concern for the local custodians of the land. One almost hopes Ike will succeed – if the big men are "eating", perhaps it is his turn now.
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"Foreign Gods, Inc., tells the story of Ike, a New York-based Nigerian cab driver who sets out to steal the statue of an ancient war deity from his home village and sell it to a New York gallery. Ike's plan is fueled by desperation. Despite a degree in economics from a major American college, his strong accent has barred him from the corporate world. Forced to eke out a living as a cab driver, he is unable to manage the emotional and material needs of a temperamental African American bride and a widowed mother demanding financial support. When he turns to gambling, his mounting losses compound his woes. And so he travels back to Nigeria to steal the statue, where he has to deal with old friends, family, and a mounting conflict between those in the village who worship the deity, and those who practice Christianity. A meditation on the dreams, promises and frustrations of the immigrant life in America; the nature and impact of religious conflicts; an examination of the ways in which modern culture creates or heightens infatuation with the "exotic," including the desire to own strange objects and hanker after ineffable illusions; and an exploration of the shifting nature of memory, Foreign Gods is a brilliant work of fiction that illuminates our globally interconnected world like no other"--… (more)

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