Sunshine Abroad

The trials and rewards of French translation and beyond

Book 10: Oh, the Humanity

Foreign Gods, Inc., by Okey Ndibe
Soho Press, 2014

The New Deal (of my books): I'm reading books from my to-read shelf, because darn it, they need to be read. Afterward, I'll write a post here: not a review, just a reaction to something or many things in the book. It is keeping me accountable, and will continue to do so.

I’m not generally a very fun person to watch sitcoms with. If something that resembles real life is being depicted, I have a hard time suspending disbelief. Especially when it comes to dumb characters. I just want to sit them down and shake some good, old fashioned common sense into them. Tell them to talk to each other. Just think about this for a minute.

I’m trying to come up with examples of this from sitcoms I’ve seen, but . . . it’s been a really long time.

Okay, so when I was younger, “I Love Lucy” reruns were on all the time. I could not for the life of me imagine how anyone could be that dense. Why would you perform in an opera if you couldn’t sing? Why wouldn’t you put something down to protect your carpet when cutting out a dress pattern, so you didn’t end up with a dress-pattern-shaped swatch of carpet? (I understand that Lucille Ball was a phenomenal comedian. It’s not her. It’s me.)

All this leads me to Ike. Poor, poor Ike.

Ee-kay. Ikechukwu Uzondu, the protagonist of Ndibe’s novel. I just wanted to take him by the shoulders, stare into his eyes, and explain to him how to deal with people. Then I thought, perhaps, that it was just a foreigner’s story, of not knowing how to interact with people in a completely different country, although he’d lived in the US for several years. But no, he has no idea how to be when he returns to Nigeria, either. For a while, I was frustrated.

But there is magic in this book. A bit of confidence here, an action against all odds there, Ike second-guessing his own choices . . . and I understood. I know Ike, I know his dreaming, I know his yearning, I know his feeling stuck. This book is a rare gem, one where I could see the ending coming (well, some of it, anyway), and yet the journey to get there was worth it. This is reality for so many people, coming from a place of nothing, trying to build themselves up, so of course any small mistakes are amplified, and economic factors blow up disproportionately to affect personality traits and expectations of social interactions. This is not a sitcom. Not some ineptitude to laugh at (although there are many humorous parts). But nor is it a sad state of affairs to be pitied. It is just life. In all its messiness and trials and joys.

P.S. Okey Ndibe is a Nigerian-American author. Know his name. Not only to find his books in the bookstore, but also to have someone else to list as a contemporary “African” author besides Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Next up: The End of My Career, by Martha Grover