The Nigerian Mafia: Mumbai by Onyeka Nwelue

I really should read more novels by African authors, this one by prollific Nigerian author Nwelue was only the second I’ve read this year.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect of a novel that is titled Nigerian Mafia: Mumbai with mentions of Nollywood and Bollywood, the end of the blurb stresses the former concerns rather than the latter: ‘The Nigerian Mafia is a tale of violence, drugs, human trafficking, murder and sex.’

The narrator Uche, tells his story in somewhat of a confessional mode, safe in Sao Paulo, Brazil now. He originally travelled to Mumbai on a single year visa with a plan to buy fabrics to take back to Lagos, but that didn’t happen for he met fellow Nigerians, Periwinkle, Nasir and Efemena, and became a drug dealer instead.

Maybe you don’t like that I sold drugs. You may wonder why I came all the way from Nigeria to another man’s country to do illegal things. If someone had told me that I will be selling drugs when I came to India, believe me, I myself wouldn’t believe that person. And if the person had told me that selling drugs would be the only option for me in India, I would never have come to India. You see, many of us you see are very good people back home in Nigeria. We come from respectable families.

Nasir is the small time drug dealer that leads him to the local Mr Big – aka Periwinkle; Efemena is a Nigerian woman who trafficks waitresses for her restaurant who becomes a bit of a surrogate mother to him. But Uche manages to get into trouble with Periwinkle. Not only that but his visa has run out and the Indian police are sniffing around.

He had had dreams of coming to India and going to Bollywood, having had a little success as a young actor in Lagos’ growing Nollywood, and in between his current troubles, we learn a little about his life back in Nigeria, and we have a lot of digressions, as other stories and anecdotes about his experiences occur to him.

The result is a rather scattershot novel in which Uche, whom we must regard as an unreliable narrator for he does like the sound of his own voice, is trying to persuade us that he had no choice in what he did… Uche doesn’t paint a nice picture of the people of his host country either, he’s such a snob, yet he’s as corrupt as anyone in the end as we discover. There is atmosphere aplenty though, if of the less salubrious kind! The Nigerian Mafia: Mumbai, was an interesting portrait of an expat group of Nigerians abroad!

Source: Review copy – thank you! Abibiman Publishing, paperback original, 228 pages.

4 thoughts on “The Nigerian Mafia: Mumbai by Onyeka Nwelue

  1. Calmgrove says:

    Your synopsis reveals a storyline that was, at least for me, rather unexpected, with elements – a Nigerian Mafia, Bollywood, Brazil – that I’d not have ever thought would go together! But as it’s told by an unreliable narrator… Intriguing, though, especially if it’s got an atmosphere.

    • Annabel (AnnaBookBel) says:

      They’re not natural bedfellows which made the novel very bitty and the atmosphere couldn’t really make up for that. The narrator is definitely unreliable with few, if any, redeeming qualities – so it was a problematic read for me!

  2. Liz Dexter says:

    That sounds like an interesting premise, and it’s good that novels covering a different kind of diaspora are getting published and promoted, even if this didn’t quite work for you. Probably a bit violent for me. I have a Nigerian novel TBR quite soon about working in the email scam game.

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