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Foreign Gods, Inc.

Cover of Foreign Gods, Inc.

Foreign Gods, Inc.

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From a disciple of the late Chinua Achebe comes a masterful and universally acclaimed novel that is at once a taut, literary thriller and an indictment of greed's power to subsume all things, including the sacred.

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.

From the Hardcover edition.

From a disciple of the late Chinua Achebe comes a masterful and universally acclaimed novel that is at once a taut, literary thriller and an indictment of greed's power to subsume all things, including the sacred.

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.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Excerpts-
  • Chapter One

    Ikechukwu Uzondu, "Ike for short," parked his Lincoln Continental cab at a garage that charged twelve dollars per hour. Before shutting off the engine, he looked at the car's electronic clock. Nine forty-seven a.m.; it meant the gallery would have been open for a little less than an hour. Perfect, Ike thought, for he wished to be done transacting his business before the place started buzzing.
    He walked a block and a half to 19 Vance Street. Had a small animal been wedged in his throat, his heart could not have pounded more violently.
    The eave over the door bore a sign etched in black over a bluish background: foreign gods, incorporated. It was written in tiny, stylized lettering, as if intended to create a tactful anonymity. Few would stumble upon a store like this; it would be found, it seemed, only by habitués and devotees.
    Across the street was a bar. Ike contemplated a quick drink or two to calm his nerves. How odd to flack for a war god while jittery.
    Yet, to go in smelling of alcohol might also be a costly mistake.
    The gallery door clicked, and a tanned woman walked out. A squat carved statue was clutched close to her breast, held in asuckling posture. At the curb, a gleaming black BMW pulled up. She opened the rear door and leaned in, arched backside revealing the outline of her underwear. Her black high-heeled shoes were riveted with nodes of diamond. She strapped the deity in place with the seat belt and then straightened. The car's front door was opened from inside. She lowered herself in, and the car sped off.
    Ike pulled at the gallery door--surprisingly light. A wide, sprawling space unfurled itself: gray marble floors, turquoise walls, and glass-paneled showcases. A multitude of soft, recessed lights accentuated the gallery's dim, spectral atmosphere. In the middle of the room, slightly to the left of the door, a spiral staircase with two grille-work banisters rose to an upper floor. Ike knew from the New York magazine piece that people went upstairs only by invitation. And that those invitations went only to a small circle of long-term collectors or their designated dealers.
    There was an otherworldly chill in the air. There was also a smell about the place, unsettling and hard to name. Ike froze at the edge of the run of stairs that led down to the floor of the gallery. From the elevation, he commanded a view. The space was busy but not cluttered. Clusters of short, squat showcases were interspersed with long and deep ones. Here and there, some customers peered into the glass cases or pored over catalogs.
    In a matter of two, three weeks, his people's ancient deity, Ngene, would be here, too. And it would enjoy pride of place, not on this floor, with the all-comers and nondescripts, but upstairs, in the section called Heaven. Ngene was a majestic god with a rich legend and history. How many other gods could boast of dooming Walter Stanton, that famed English missionary whose name, in the syllable-stretching mouths of the people of Utonki, became Su-tantee-ny?
    The thought gave him a gutsy boost. He trotted down the steps to the floor of the gallery. Walking unhurriedly, he cast deliberate glances about him, so that an observer might mistake him for a veteran player in the rare sport where gods and sacred curios were bought and sold. He paused near the spiral staircase. A sign warned please do not ascend unless escorted. He walked on to a chesthigh showcase. A hefty wooden head stared at him from atop a rectangular stump. The face was pitched forward, like a tortoise's head poking out of a shell. On closer inspection, Ike saw that the carved head was deformed by a...

About the Author-
  • Okey Ndibe first came to the US to take up appointment as the founding editor of African Commentary, a magazine published by 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). His award-winning journalism has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, and the Hartford Courant, where he served on the editorial board. Ndibe is also the author of Arrows of Rain, and earned his MFA and PhD from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He lives in West Hartford, CT, with his wife, Sheri, and their three children.

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  • Copyright Protection (DRM) required by the Publisher may be applied to this title to limit or prohibit printing or copying. File sharing or redistribution is prohibited. Your rights to access this material expire at the end of the lending period. Please see Important Notice about Copyrighted Materials for terms applicable to this content.

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