One page review series No. 3:
MUGU MAKING: MOTHER AS CASH COW: A One Page review of Tricia Adaobi Nwaubani’s I Do Not Come to You by Chance.
We have seen it before: the brother taking up residence in that part of his sibling’s heart reserved for the father, [e.g. Jaja in Kambili’s in Purple Hibiscus]. It’s almost norm in the absent-father households of Black America where, for instance, in Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya sees a father and defender in her junior brother Bailey more than her real father whose name, as it were, is writ on the wings of migrant birds.
In Tricia Adaobi Nwaubani’s 338-page novel, I Do Not Come to You by Chance.[Cassava Republic, 2009], this pseudo-filial engagement is taken to desperate dimensions. Kingsley, who must be the protagonist [Cash Daddy’s large, even gross, presence must still be seen only as the sour grape that sets Kingsley’s teeth on edge], foists a large responsibility upon himself. His is a flight from a hunger epidemic that had ravaged his family, rather than a quest for a loud life, the sort epitomised in his uncle Cash Daddy.
But he was to embrace that loud and ostentatious life with gusto, as supporting cast to Cash Daddy, against the over-my-dead-body objection of his chaplet carrying mother, the austere, husband-dotting Augustina. The result is a mugu-making and mugu-milking enterprise that easily makes the 4-1-9-business a pure art, albeit one with a warning label for the fainthearted.
Nwaubani’s characters are carved in concrete, and traverse nonfictional settings: Isuikwuato, Aba, Umuahia, London, etc, complete with street names. The idiom-spiced language is not an add-on, it’s an out growth, unpretentious, natural.
In Nwaubani, neither mugus nor 419ers are your run of the mill, all-smart, all-greed constructs; they have their dainties and vulnerabilities. Kingsley’s commitment to the welfare of his siblings is so real, you find yourself almost extenuating, even forgiving, of his despicable means. On the other level, his comrade, Azuka, vanishes, lured to his life’s abyss by his Iranian mugu; now who is the real mugu?
To me, the real challenge of the novel is how to situate the author. Is she treating yahoo yahoo boys with kid gloves, rationalizing their behavior by way of appeal to a doctrine of necessity, eg Kingsley’s numerous failed job search efforts? Or is she simply holding up the mirror?
The final mugu is Kingsley’s mother herself, Augustina, that hitherto implacable moral colossus. But here, his prize is not the usual dollars and euros, but what he needs most to continue his cold-blooded exploits: her love and acquiescence. How he managed this is as intriguing as how the author, a young female, could settle comfortably into the mind of a man to ably portray the worldview of the character itself.
Augustina may not bring the cash like other mugus, but given the size of the guile and dubiousness that went into obtaining her acquiescence, she carts away the top mugu prize.