Okey Ndibe’s “Foreign Gods, Inc.” tells the story of a Nigerian-born New Yorker called Ike. Ike has an Amherst degree in economics, however his accent has kept him from finding a job in corporate America. So he works as a cab driver. His customers mispronounce his name, as Americans are wont to do and the name they call him means “buttocks” in Igbo.
Ike married a greedy woman for a green card and through her incurred substantial debt that cripples him with anxiety. Everything in his life is not going great but he has a plan to remedy that situation, a plan that involves theft of an ancient deity, a powerful war god, Ngene, from his village in Nigeria. And he reckons he will sell it to an tony art gallery – Foreign Gods Inc. – and specifically to its proprietor who buys and sells foreign deities from Africa, Asia and South America. Ike learns about this gallery from a magazine.
Most of the book takes place in Nigeria, on Ike’s return to his motherland. His stay in America shows that he doesn’t really belong. He’s too Nigerian to be American and too American to be Nigerian. Of course he is placed on a pedestal as a rich man from America.
Ike finds himself caught between his pious mother, who is under the influence of a shady ‘Christian’ pastor who worships at the alter of the almighty dollar and his uncle who clings to the war god Ngene and the old traditions.
This book IS NOT about love and redemption. The character is not exactly likeable. The book is about how desperate and pathetic humans get when they feel the world has denied them what creates status, power, money, and respect. It is about what religion has turned people into, trying to wrangle favor from whatever deity they worship.
The premise is not only compelling, it’s real. So many African deities have been sold by their own people for petty cash paid by foreigners. And that ending. Eh! I should stop now before I give it away.