A New Yorker of mixed heritage believes his destiny lies in his African ancestral homeland in this dramatic novel.
In 1993, 17-year-old Emmanuel’s father, Uchechi, tells him that his destiny awaits him in the African kingdom of Umuati. Uchechi believes his American son will somehow need to help Umuati battle injustice and oppression and that failure to do so will curse Emmanuel. A decade later, Emmanuel resides in Manhattan with a Ph.D. from Columbia Law School but still hasn’t visited Umuati. He falls for Rebecca Levitt, who’s vice president at her father Reuben’s brokerage firm, Peak Management Group. Emmanuel even takes a job at the firm to get close to Rebecca. But Reuben disapproves of their inevitable romance, primarily because Emmanuel, who’s biracial, isn’t Jewish like the Levitts. Emmanuel fights for the chance to marry Rebecca and, soon after, finds a way he can assist Umuati. An oil-field explosion there has resulted in fatalities and a devastating oil spill. Emmanuel calls Umuati’s regent and offers, pro bono, to file a lawsuit against the company responsible, Sooli Oil. This entails finally traveling to Umuati, where Emmanuel surprisingly faces some resistance. After the evidence he has gathered inexplicably vanishes, Emmanuel and others learn there may be a spy working for Sooli, which ultimately leads to murder and a kidnapping. But it’s the opportunity to move to Umuati that presents Emmanuel with his greatest challenge, as Rebecca’s refusal to leave her U.S. home may threaten their prospective future together.
Emmanuel’s convincing motivations propel Eze’s (Leadership Stories of Mother Hen, 2012, etc.) engrossing, character-driven story. For example, destiny plays a large role in the protagonist’s decisions, be it pursuing Rebecca or coming to the aid of Umuati. This stems from Uchechi’s forecasting his son’s fate and possible curse; just days later, Emmanuel tragically lost both parents in a storm-related boating accident. Similarly, he has thrived academically in spite of the discrimination he faced from school bullies calling him half-breed or “merboy” (half fish, half boy). Emmanuel later overcomes adversaries in Umuati who see him as an outcast. He has an Umuati name, Nkemefuna, and knows the language but is unfamiliar with the culture. The first third of the novel centers on Emmanuel’s growing relationship with Rebecca. It’s a rewarding subplot, though some of his behavior is more obsessive than romantic. For instance, when she seems reluctant to further the relationship, Emmanuel asks his cousin Anna to befriend Rebecca. He’s certain that the friendship will help him win Rebecca. Regardless, his sweet words to her are often charming: “If I ever live this life again, let it always be with you, my love.” The plot shift to the lawsuit adds tension and suspense. Individuals opposing the suit put Emmanuel in unmistakable peril, but the courtroom scenes are intense as well, as the protagonist fights a multibillion-dollar company. Female characters are strong, particularly Anna, who, in a flashback, doesn’t hesitate to warn a sexist, racist biker against calling her a “bitch.”
A protagonist of conviction braves discrimination and a potentially dangerous corporation.