Sunday 24 March 2013

Diaries of a Dead African, 2003, Chuma Nwokolo, JR. ****

If you say "I Do Not Come to You by Chance by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani" was the first novel that expounded on the 419 topic, that is because you have not yet read Diaries of a Dead African. Published six years before. An epistolary novel, a diary entry of a father and his two sons.

To start with, the first entry belongs to the father, Meme Jumai, a poverty-stricken farmer, so wretched that his wife abandoned him and left him with nothing. He barely had enough food to survive on until the next harvest. In his diary, he narrated how his every day survival was a contant struggle and how he gradually turned into a laughing stock of  his village. Firstly, because his wife left him and secondly, because starvation was ridiculously doing away with his life. In fact, it eventually hastened his death.

Next, is the diary of his son Calamatus Jumai, con-man by profession, whose entries I thoroughly enjoyed. He came back to his village Ikerre-Oti to bury his father. However, after reading his father's diary, he felt so sorry for him that he vowed to avenge his death. Unfortunately, he died in the process (as a matter of fact he killed himself) because he felt ashamed when a secret that humiliated his persona was revealed. Just like that all his plans ended in a fiasco.

Then, comes the diary of Abel, Calama's elder brother, a writer that was doomed to failure. He wrote anyway. He was determined not to repeat the same mistakes as his predeceased family members. Even so, there is no way escaping the fact that he was already in a weighty problem when his late brother made him beneficiary of an important 419 bank account.

As I mentioned previously, I took delight in reading Calama's diary; it goes without saying he is my favourite of the three. I found him hilariously funny. He was candid about his business (419er), never kept it secret. And would not mind initiating any one who was willing and has the talent. Sadly, he eventually died in the most piteous way. Few entries from his diary:
......Were you waiting for me to print and post you an invitation for your father's burial? When you heard he was dead, what did you think would follow? Baptism ceremony? Look, carry yourself out of this house before I call my boys, otherwise what will happen to you would surprise you.
Referring to one of his friend in the 419 business,
Despite all his money, FazO had a complex or something. The worst thing he hates is for anyone to call him a thief.... Me, I don't mind if people call me a monkey - so long as I still have my money. 
From one of his letters to his victim:
.....Please don't try to escape with my share of the money. I don't want to arrive in Vegas and start hearing story that you went for summer holiday to Parrot or is it Canary Island.
Diaries of a Dead African could be a  perfect example of what Chinua Achebe was referring to, when he said that English was an international language. That, African writers should use it in a way in so as to deliver their message and carry their African experience. No need to use it as the natives. Nwokolo did just that

I greatly appreciate the fact that there are writers who would risk coming up with a different style of approach. Which, of course is stunningly attractive. This novel was fun, interesting and quite comical. Nothing like anything you have ever read before. I wholeheartedly recommend it to all and sundry.

I first heard about it on Image Nations and it caught my eye.


  1. Oh! I'm so happy you liked it. Most at times our narrow reading directs us to only 'popular' books and we make wrong attributions. I haven't read Tricia's book (because I've not come across it yet). But Chuma's book is an excellent piece.

    On language: I agree with you 100%. Some writers have appropriated the language for themselves and they are those who succeed. If you loved this then you will also enjoy The Ghost of Sani Abacha, his collection of short stories.

    1. Nana thanks to you for reviewing such a wonderful novel on your blog,I might not have noticed it if it was not for your review. Tricia's novel (which I thoroughly enjoyed) got a lot of publicity as if it was the first and only novel about the 419 business.

      I wish and hope writers would be free to express themselves in their novels just the way they really feel it. You know the modern adage "Be yourself for everyone else is taken". I admire Nwokolo's bravery. And I am looking forward to reading his "The Ghost of Sani Abacha".

      Again, I hope you read Tricia's "I do not come to you by chance" because I would so very much like to know your thoughts.

  2. Great review. i will certainly read this book if I come across it. I've read such good reviews about it.

    1. Afua, I am sure you will enjoy it. Hopefully, if you set your hands on it.
      Good Luck!

  3. I love your intro to your review. Nwokolo's name keeps cropping up to me in more recent times. Lovely review, Mary.

    1. Hi Geosi,
      Maybe it is time you read it. I think you would like it. Nwokolo is quite good. Looking forward to reading your review on it.

  4. Sounds very interesting....did the writer explain a detailed meaning of 419 because if I'm not used to the meaning of the meaning of 419 as a Nigerian it may sound very confusing to a random reader who might be interested in the book

    1. Kboy, long time..
      I think the 419 thing is so popular that almot every one knows what it is about. Even the Canadian writer Will Ferguson wrote a novel titled 419. Apart from that, from the way it was talked about.. I do not think any reader would be confused.

  5. Hello. Thanks for)your awesome review. I stumbled on your page while searching for reviews online. The thing is I just finished reading this book and I have to admit it's one of my best. It's soo funny and well written. I have been searching for other african fictions that has a similar style for my next read. I have read I do not come to you by chance. I have also read Baba segi's wives and we need new names. Can you recommend an african novel i would enjoy, sure to make me laugh while reading? Thanks soo much

    1. Hi Lawrence, Thank you for stopping by. I can recommend you books I really enjoyed not sure if they would make you laugh though. For instance:
      -the joys of motherhood by buchi emecheta
      -zenzele a letter for my daughtet by J.Nozipo Maraire
      -Half of a a yellow sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
      -Neighbours by Lilia Momple
      -born in the big rains
      -Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
      -by the sea by Abdulrazak Gurnah
      -Admiring Silence by Gurnah
      -waiting for an Angel by Helon Habila
      -maiting Birds by Lewis Nkosi


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