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Review: Foreign Gods, Inc. by Okey Ndibe

By Gabino Iglesias

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I really like crime fiction that serves as a vehicle to deliver sharp social commentary. In Foreign Gods, Inc., author Okey Ndibe wraps the hopes, shattered dreams, struggles, and ill-conceived plans of an immigrant in a narrative about theft, swindling, gambling, corruption, and messing around with powerful deities. The result is a very entertaining and surprisingly deep novel that explores the limbo in which modern migrants find themselves while presenting a foreign culture in a respectful, knowledgeable light.

Foreign Gods, Inc. follows Ikechukwu "Ike" Uzondu, a Nigerian taxi driver living in Brooklyn. Ike has an education from Amherst College, an impressive resume, and the intelligence required to make his dreams come true in the land of opportunity. Unfortunately, he also has a thick accent, and that has prevented him from getting a job. Sadly, his problems don't stop there. Ike married a woman in order to get a green card, and ended up with a rude wife who cheated on him with a man who owns a store across the street, constantly accused him of being with other women, and constantly demanded sex and money to go shopping. When they finally divorced, she took most of his money and left him with a gambling problem and few options. With rent due, bills piling up, and emails from his sister back home asking for money and telling him he has to come back home, Ike remembers reading an article about Foreign Gods, Inc., a New York gallery that buys and sells deities from foreign countries. Ike comes up with a simple plan to put an end to his financial woes: to steal Ngene, his village's war idol, and sell it to the gallery. Instead of a deity ready for the picking, what Ike finds in his village is a family at war, a corrupt Christian preacher who's poisoning everyone's mind, and a deity with a dark history that may have something to say about being stolen.

Foreign Gods, Inc. is an entertaining crime narrative, but what makes it a must read is the fact that it's also an outstanding meditation on what it's like to be an immigrant in the U.S. Between dealing with discrimination, having money problems, and feeling the constant pull of his hometown, Ike is a unique character with universal feelings and circumstances. Ndibe achieves a wonderful balance between humor and critique, and that makes the humorous part funnier and the painful portions much more poignant.

Every migrant knows you can't go back home, and Ike learns that the hard way. He returns to Nigeria and everything seems worse than when he left in search of new opportunities. His memories of home clash with what he encounters just like his visions of a brighter future in the U.S. crashed with the reality of a country that won't give him a job befitting his intelligence and education because he has an accent. Those clashes, along with a long list of others that include a very interesting conflict between an old religion and new one, make Foreign Gods, Inc. a narrative about difference and what it means to be caught in the middle.

Written with a smart, flowing prose and full of wonderful poetry and morsels of knowledge coming from the voices in Ike's village, Foreign Gods, Inc. is a testament to Ndibe's talent and a reason to put him on the list of authors to keep on your radar.