FOREIGN GODS, INC.

Okey Ndibe

Foreign Gods, Inc., tells the story of Ike, a New York-based Nigerian cab driver who sets out to steal the statue of an ancient war deity from his home village and sell it to a New York gallery.

Ike’s plan is fueled by desperation. Despite a degree in economics from a major American college, his strong accent has barred him from the corporate world. Forced to eke out a living as a cab driver, he is unable to manage the emotional and material needs of a temperamental African American bride and a widowed mother demanding financial support.

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Foreign Gods, Inc., tells the story of Ike, a New York-based Nigerian cab driver who sets out to steal the statue of an ancient war deity from his home village and sell it to a New York gallery.

Ike’s plan is fueled by desperation. Despite a degree in economics from a major American college, his strong accent has barred him from the corporate world. Forced to eke out a living as a cab driver, he is unable to manage the emotional and material needs of a temperamental African American bride and a widowed mother demanding financial support. When he turns to gambling, his mounting losses compound his woes.

And so he travels back to Nigeria to steal the statue, where he has to deal with old friends, family, and a mounting conflict between those in the village who worship the deity, and those who practice Christianity.

A meditation on the dreams, promises and frustrations of the immigrant life in America; the nature and impact of religious conflicts; an examination of the ways in which modern culture creates or heightens infatuation with the “exotic,” including the desire to own strange objects and hanker after ineffable illusions; and an exploration of the shifting nature of memory, Foreign Gods is a brilliant work of fiction that illuminates our globally interconnected world like no other.

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  • Soho Press
  • Paperback
  • October 2014
  • 352 Pages
  • 9781616954581

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$25.00

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About Okey Ndibe

Okey Ndibe first arrived in the US to take up appointment as the founding editor of African Commentary, a magazine published by the Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe. He has been a visiting professor at Brown University, Connecticut College, Simon’s Rock College, Trinity College, and the University of Lagos (as a Fulbright scholar). The author of Foreign Gods, Inc., Ndibe served on the editorial board of Hartford Courant where his essays won national and state awards. He earned MFA and PhD degrees from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He lives in West Hartford, CT, with his wife, Sheri, and their three children.

Praise

Razor-sharp… Mr. Ndibe invests his story with enough dark comedy to make Ngene an odoriferous presence in his own right, and certainly not the kind of polite exotic rarity that art collectors are used to… In Mr. Ndibe’s agile hands, he’s both a source of satire and an embodiment of pure terror.”—Janet Maslin, New York Times

Okey Ndibe’s novel is dramatic and wonderfully detailed, and his prose is absolutely beautiful—he’s a deeply generous writer with an excellent ear for dialogue.”—Michael Schaub, NPR

A story of sweeping cultural insight and absurd comedy… rendered with a stoic power that moves the reader more than histrionics possibly could.”—The Washington Post

Unforgettable… Ndibe seems to have a boundless ear for the lyrical turns of phrase of the working people of rural Nigeria… The wooden deity “has character, an audacious personality,” says one non-African who sees it. So does Ndibe’s novel, a page-turning allegory about the globalized world.”—Los Angeles Times

Discussion Questions

1. In the interview, Okey Ndibe has said his protagonist, Ike, is “engaged in a drama of self-reclamation.” What can that mean for Ike, an immigrant whose “self” is being rejected by his adopted country—even down to his accent?

2. This battle between Christianity and the followers of Ngene drives an important storyline in Foreign Gods, Inc. How does Ike’s disinterest in both Nigerian folk religion and the Christianity that’s arrived complicate his trip home?

3. Ike says that Ngene is no longer a war god, because “The warriors of Utonki had not fought a war in more than a hundred years.” Do you think he’s right? Can symbols, especially religious ones, lose an intrinsic potency if their devotees lose faith?

4. Ike says that Ngene is no longer a war god, because “The warriors of Utonki had not fought a war in more than a hundred years.” Do you think he’s right? Can symbols, especially religious ones, lose an intrinsic potency if their devotees lose faith?

5. In the Igbo language, “Ike” can mean two things: the correct pronunciation of Ike’s name (Ee-keh) means “Power of God.” An incorrect one (Ee-kay) means buttocks. What do you think might have been intended in giving Ike such a tricky name?

6. What are the various ways greed, wealth, and objectification come into play in Foreign Gods, Inc.? For example, are there different views of what it means to be rich in Nigeria and in the US?

7. Ike’s African American wife is just as condescending about his Nigerian accent as the white characters he encounters. Do you think Ike has a unique vantage on race in the US?

8. Why do you think Ike’s heart is pounding in the first chapter, when he commits to stealing and selling Ngene, a sacred deity from his hometown? Guilt? Excitement? Something else?

9. About a quarter of the way through the book, Ndibe relates the story of Reverend Walter Stanton as heard by a young Ike. Why do you think Ndibe chooses to tell the story in its entirety and as a dream? Is Stanton’s story a widely believed myth, a complete fabrication or something in between?

10. Stanton sees himself as an “inept fisher of men” what does he mean? Is this the paradigm for missionaries in Africa? Is Uka a better fisherman?