Thwarted in his ambition to become an engineer, a young Nigerian is lured by his charismatic uncle into a lucrative empire of e-mail scams.
Kingsley is the eldest child of parents who worship learning and play by the rules. But his father’s failing health and resulting retirement have landed the family in genteel poverty, and when Kingsley emerges from the university he feels obliged to support them. Engineering jobs are scarce and elusive, alas, and first novelist Nwaubani ratchets up the pressure: Kingsley’s fiancée cuts him loose, and his father Paulinus suffers a stroke. In a harrowing scene, the family rushes from hospital to hospital, looking for one that will admit Paulinus, comatose and still internally bleeding, without cash payment up front; when, finally, they call upon a distant relative’s influence to secure help, they’re issued a list of items to buy that includes IV bags and syringes. Desperate, Kingsley calls upon rich Uncle Boniface, aka “Cash Daddy,” a successful and extravagant “419er” (after the section in Nigeria’s penal code that he runs roughshod over). He imagines he’s just getting a loan from his uncle, but before long the would-be engineer finds himself enmeshed in the work of finding “mugus” (suckers) from the developed world, luxuriating in the lavish perks that come from that work—and, of course, headed for a final reckoning. The prose is merely functional, the plotting a little schematic, but Cash Daddy is a charming scapegrace, and Kingsley’s moral dilemma has real interest. Nwaubani’s portrait of contemporary Nigeria and her account of the financial and ethical convolutions of the developing world compel the reader’s attention.
Not perfect, but an entertaining and promising debut from a Nigerian native.