A Nigerian living in America has a moneymaking scheme—to return to his native village, steal the statue of a war god and sell it to a tony New York dealer who deals in such deities.
Ikechukwu Uzondu (or Ike for short) has high expectations. Although he’s a cum laude graduate of Amherst with a degree in economics, he’s working as a New York cabbie because his accent won’t get him in the door at a Wall Street firm. Recently divorced and hounded by creditors, Ike talks to Mark Gruels, owner of a gallery called Foreign Gods, Inc. that traffics in Asian and African statues of gods—and well-heeled collectors are willing to part with hundreds of thousands of dollars for the best specimens. Ike borrows some money from a friend to purchase a ticket back to his home village of Utonki and carefully lays the groundwork for stealing a statue of Ngene, the village war god still worshiped by Ike’s uncle Osuakwu. Meanwhile, Ike’s mother has come under the spell of Pastor Uka, a stern Protestant who sees Ngene worship as inspired by Satan. Not so coincidentally, the pastor believes that any person returning to the village from America must be rich, so he’s looking to Ike to “sow” a considerable sum for a new chapel. Caught between his overly pious and gullible mother on one hand and his “heathen” uncle on the other, Ike eventually steals the statue but still must smuggle it through Nigerian customs, a task made somewhat easier by corrupt customs officials willing to look the other way, but when he returns to New York, he finds the market for African deities has gone colder than he had expected.
Ndibe writes of culture clash in a moving way that makes Ike’s march toward disaster inexorable and ineffably sad.