Mr. and Mrs. Doctorby Julie Iromuanya
Ifi and Job, a Nigerian couple in an arranged marriage, begin their lives together in Nebraska with a single, outrageous lie: that Job is a doctor, not a college dropout. Unwittingly, Ifi becomes his co-conspiratorthat is until his first wife, Cheryl, whom he married for a green card years ago, reenters the picture and upsets Job's tenuous balancing
Ifi and Job, a Nigerian couple in an arranged marriage, begin their lives together in Nebraska with a single, outrageous lie: that Job is a doctor, not a college dropout. Unwittingly, Ifi becomes his co-conspiratorthat is until his first wife, Cheryl, whom he married for a green card years ago, reenters the picture and upsets Job's tenuous balancing act.
Julie Iromuanya has short stories and novel excerpts appearing or forthcoming in the Kenyon Review, Passages North, the Cream City Review, and the Tampa Review, among other journals. She is a finalist for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction. Mr. and Mrs. Doctor is her first novel.
Iromuanya's debut novel opens during the awkward wedding night in Nigeria between arranged couple Job and Ifi Ogbonnaya. Although naturally wary of her new mate, Ifi believes her husband is a successful, wealthy doctor in America, but he's actually a nurse's assistant who failed out of the University of Nebraska. Ifi is also unaware that Job married a twice-divorced American named Cheryl in exchange for a green card years earlier, and then divorced her before marrying Ifi. Financially challenged Cheryl resurfaces before Ifi arrives in her new home, asking for funds. The crux of Iromuanya's world lies in Job's vast capacity for continued delusions of grandeur. No matter how dire the circumstances, Job manages to find a way to manufacture superiority: "The more he spoke, the bigger the promises, the larger he felt." Iromuanya skillfully explores the cultural challenges Job and Ifi encounter within their Nebraska community, rendering a complex, rich portrait of their lives. (May)
“This refreshingly well-drawn debut novel is peopled with lively, engrossing characters who reflect a sophisticated understanding of human nature and relationships. Against a backdrop of the micro- and macroaggressions African expats endure in the West, Iromuanya presents a fascinating and often hilarious drama of marriage, highlighting the discrepancies between who we say we are and who we really are.”Kirkus
“In agile prose, Iromuanya creates an intricate and fresh portrait of the perennial immigrant’s tale.”San Francisco Chronicle
“Julie Iromuanya’s debut novel is both keenly observational and intensely introspective. She’s one to look out for.”Bustle
""Reading this book, I found my worldview recalibrating. . . Ambitious in its subject matter an arranged marriage, an ever-present Nigerian heritage and deft in its maneuvering of point of view, Mr. and Mr. Doctor is a staggering debut about legacy, shame, and the folly of ambition."Bustle
“This tale of two Nigerian immigrants pretending to live the American dream in small-town Nebraska is heartbreakingly funny and terribly sad, a remarkable feat of storytelling, in which all the characters’ isolated longings and frustrations are intimately felt, yet register on the grand tragicomic scale of human folly.”The Star Tribune
“From the physical knockout punch Ifi lands on Job at the beginning of the book to the magnificent verbal one she delivers at the end, Iromuanya establishes Ifi’s place among the indelible characters of immigrant novels. While it takes Ifi the full duration of the book to come into her own, Iromuanya, by contrast, snaps readers to attention with the first paragraph of Mr. and Mrs. Doctor, announcing the arrival of a mature, distinctive and commanding voice.”Paste Magazine
“Mr. and Mrs. Doctor is an exceedingly well-crafted examination of marriage, expectation, appearances, and what happens after one’s carefully crafted idea of self has finally crumbled. Heartbreaking, occasionally wryly hilarious, and told in a spare, sensory style, this thoughtful debut novel ranks high in this year’s literary fiction.”The Masters Review
“Iromuanya tackles many subjects marriage, race, immigration, families . . . the interplay between Job’s rigid and secretive bluster and Ifi’s attempt to build a new American life never loses its poignancy.”New York Times Sunday Book Review
“Each of the characters falls victim, in turn, to the human weakness that we all share: the need for acceptance and approval, and to see ourselves reflected well in the eyes of others. The perennial immigrant tale of heartbreak, poverty and discrimination rings familiar in "Mr. and Mrs. Doctor," even in the American heartland where we pride ourselves on friendliness and acceptance.”The Lincoln Star Journal
“Raunchy, provocative and sometimes dirty, Dr. Julie Iromuanya’s debut novel Mr. and Mrs. Doctor drew gasps and chuckles from the audience.”NEIU Independent
“Iromuanya flexes her creative muscles is in this unflinching portrayal.”Gilmore Guide to Books
“In the tradition of Andre Dubus’s House of Sand and Fog, Mr. and Mrs. Doctor is a heartbreakingly complicated story of leaving one culture and never fully entering another. A splendid debut.”MARGOT LIVESEY
“Mr. and Mrs. Doctor is a heart-rending and open-eyed tale of a Nigerian immigrant couple’s struggle to establish a life in Nebraska. Julie Iromuanya’s vision burns away the superficial veneer of America’s promise to its newest inhabitants even as it tells a story that is classic, powerful and, in its own way, open to possibility.”DAVID MURA
“[Iromuanya] tackles the impossible hopes attached to the American dream in her debut novel about an ambitious Nigerian immigrant who lies about being a doctor to his new wife.”Chicago Magazine
“Iromuanya’s exquisitely drawn novel centers on an arranged Nigerian marriage that has been undertaken under false pretenses.”SF Gate
“Rather than marring her novel with moral didacticism and chastising Job and Ifi for their many lies . . . [Iromuanya reveals] the very human weaknesses that we all sharethe unwillingness to admit failure, and the desire to see ourselves reflected well in the eyes of others.”The Rumpus
"Translation is one of the levers of Iromuanya’s wonderful novel, which also puts to good use the storyteller’s tool kit of equivalences, false and true, inversions and reversals, all within a story that manages to make the most intimate idiosyncrasies and failures at once minutely, movingly real even as they map the comic and the tragic in a large and classical fashion."The Star Tribune
“Will Ifi and Job find their authentic selves? This is not a romance and the conclusion is a satisfying surprise.”Pioneer Press
“Iromuanya explores our contemporary idea of the American Dream.”The Riveter
“Julie Iromuanya has created a frustrating, funny, sensitive story about race, relationships and survival and how our past shapes and follows us into our future. Check out this captivating story by Iromuanya, a first time author.”Arlington Public Library
“Iromuanya skillfully explores the cultural challenges Job and Ifi encounter within their Nebraska community, rendering a complex, rich portrait of their lives.”Publishers Weekly
“In this novel, what is familiar to [Iromuanya] becomes engaging and edifying for the reader...The dexterous dialogue, nonlinear plot, shifting perspectives, and visual motifs all move earnestly.”Late Night Library
“By turns blunt and subtle, realistic yet credulity-stretching, mercilessly bleak but not without a few good laughs.”Arcadia Magazine
“A bold journey into the dark side of the American Dream. . . .Mr. and Mrs. Doctor tells a tough, complex story, but it is shot through with wit and humor, making for a surprisingly bracing read.”Lively Arts
“In Mr. and Mrs. Doctor, Julie Iromuanya constructs a richly characterized, searingly honest and often wildly funny portrayal of immigrant-of-color life in 21st-century America. Iromuanya’s brilliantly rendered narrative cuts deep into the conflicting ambitions, familial expectations and cumbersome cultural baggage of Nigerians in America.”Paste Magazine
“Iromuanya weaves this tale of a mismatched couple with dark humor and careful observation. . . Her insights into assimilationits difficulties and pitfallsare astute and at times, eye-opening.”BookPage
“Mr. and Mrs. Doctor tells a wonderfully intricate, honest story of two strangers-turned-partners surviving the 21st century American Dream.”NewPages
"I found Mr. and Mrs. Doctor compulsive reading and kept guessing what was going to happen next. . . Success stories often read as if they are forced, not really true. Mr. and Mrs. Doctor has a ring of authenticity about it.”CounterPunch
"This is a solid debut from Julie Iromuanya and I definitely look forward to reading more from her.”Read in Colour
Newlywed Nigerian expats in America attempt to cement their careers and social standing as an ex's return threatens the life they're building. Job Ogbonnaya has returned to his Nigerian homeland for an arranged marriage with Ifi, who has been seduced by Job's reputation as a big doctor in America. Job has also promised to send Ifi to an American university to study nursing. But after a rocky beginning in which Ifi is repulsed by Job's rough sexual advances—everything Job "knew about sex he learned from American pornography"—things only get worse. Job isn't a doctor with a fancy house; he's a nurse's aide living in a run-down walk-up. With one year left on his student visa, he dropped out of college; his American citizenship is the result of a green-card marriage to a twice-divorced woman from Nebraska. And when Ifi learns the truth about Job from his scheming ex-wife, Iromuanya embarks on a masterful exploration of the interplay of desire, loyalty, and ambition. Ifi has no desire to admit Job's failure to the world and lose the respect of her Nigerian community back home, but Job has no desire to make good on his ongoing promises of medical school and a better life in America. And so the masquerade continues, the clock counting down on just how long Job and Ifi's charade can last. This refreshingly well-drawn debut novel is peopled with lively, engrossing characters who reflect a sophisticated understanding of human nature and relationships. Against a backdrop of the micro- and macroaggressions African expats endure in the West, Iromuanya presents a fascinating and often hilarious drama of marriage, highlighting the discrepancies between who we say we are and who we really are.
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Mr. and Mrs. Doctor
By Julie Iromuanya
COFFEE HOUSE PRESSCopyright © 2015 Julie Iromuanya
All rights reserved.
EVERYTHING JOB OGBONNAYA KNEW ABOUT SEX HE LEARNED FROM American pornography. So on their first unchaperoned meeting, Job rushed his new wife, splitting her thin body against the papered wall of their lavish honeymoon suite at the Presidential Hotel in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Job tore at her lacy pink panties and only released his lips from her face to haltingly shout, "You-are-the-dirty-slut-girl!"
Ifi punched his gut with the sharp heel of her sandal. He crumpled. Together they landed on the floor in a tangled heap, legs splayed in every direction.
"You are ugly," she said, glaring at him. Potato-sack head. Stout shoulders. Hog's gut. Bushy, curling eyebrows. Thick glasses pushed into the lips of his nose. "Eh? And now a beast? I married a beast. Hey!" She wound up her fist and struck him squarely on an ear.
Job clutched his throbbing ear. For a moment, he struggled to unwind the underwear from his wrists before handing them back to her.
When Ifi attempted to put them on, the ripped elastic band left the underwear lopsided on her hips. "You see what you have done, oh?" She thought of the time and care she and Aunty had put into her appearance for this day — the matching underwear set, the hours cooking her hair in an egg-smelling relaxer and then curling it; her lipstick and eyeliner were now a streaky veneer finish on her face.
A solid fist banged at the door. Ifi disappeared into the bathroom, clutching at the panties. When Job opened the door, a man in a too-tight suit stared up at him with liquid eyes.
"Is everything fine, sah?" The man took in Job's appearance — his trousers with the zipper open and belt dangling, his face prickling with beads of sweat, his slack, bare chest. A smile gradually spread over his face.
Job cleared his throat and heard his father's voice in his ears. "What is this? You have come to disturb me on the day of my honeymoon with this nonsense?"
"No, sah, my apologies, sah," the man said.
Job and the man stood in the doorway, awaiting the next line in the script. Finally Job gently let the door close on the man's teasing grin.
He turned back to Ifi, who now sat on the bed with her legs crossed, her face turned away from him. He positioned himself so that his body was turned away from hers too, then gradually he made his way toward her. Still she remained unmoved. His hand snaked toward her bare, brown thigh. Her skin gleamed, shiny. Just before he touched her, his hand dropped short. He thought of her words. She had looked prettier in the photographs, even light skinned — not this tall, skinny thing with no buttocks. She was lucky a man like Job Ogbonnaya would even consider her appropriate for marriage. Although Job's life had been bare in America, he had never convinced himself that what he felt was loneliness.
She looked tossed apart to him, like the two legs of the goat his grandparents had butchered in honor of the engagement. On the day of the celebration, Job had stood back warily as the butcher knocked the goat unconscious before they pulled its insides apart and prepared it for roasting. He'd always loved goat meat, so much so that as a child he'd earned the nickname onye ohi, thief, from his mother and sisters, because he would always let his hand slip into the large pot and steal bits of meat as it cooked. Still, he'd wanted no part of the killing.
"I can give you back to your people," Job said.
Ifi turned a furious glare on him, one eye widening. Aunty and Uncle would be angry with her. After all, they had found her a doctor husband who lived in America. He had even promised to send her to an American university, so that she could be a nurse in his clinic. Aunty would say, How can you, an orphan, be so ungrateful? Aunty would say that all their hard work in raising her since her parents died had been in vain. Still, Ifi could not take this. She was nearly thirty, almost a decade older than he believed, not a child.
She would find her own way to her dreams without him. "I will go," she said. Their bags were open on the floor of the hotel room. Ifi began, indiscriminately, to dump article after article of clothing into her suitcase. Job saw his tan slacks disappearing into the bag. "That belongs to me," he said.
As if in rewind, Ifi flung clothes out of the bag. "It belongs to you!" she said. "It belongs to you!" Job ducked, barely missing the flying clothes.
"Ifi," he started. Then, clumsily, he added, "Darling." Although she didn't turn back, she stopped flinging objects from the bag. He thought of his virgin wife tensed against the wall and wondered. Surely she had been schooled in the responsibilities that came with marriage. But perhaps she hadn't. No one had explained it to him. He had been a boy of nineteen when he first came to America all those years ago.
Job sifted through his bags until, from far beneath the clothes and shoes, he produced a faded, well-worn magazine. He slid the magazine across the bed to Ifi and flipped it open.
It was a simple enough story. Page one: the doctor and the patient. The caption read, "Doctor, it hurts here," followed by, "Let me examine you."
Ifi flipped the page. The doctor's milky buttocks stared back at her. The patient had her arms and head back and was chortling wildly.
"What is this?" Ifi exclaimed. Was this how Americans paid for medicine? She covered her eyes, but couldn't help peeking through her fingers. She had been with one man before, but it was over in seconds, and she'd never actually seen him completely disrobed.
Suddenly there was a flickering of lights, a gasp, and the room filled with darkness. They waited for the generator to click on, Ifi curious to turn the page, and Job expecting to consummate the marriage without further complication. When the generator did not turn on, Job instead suggested that they leave the room for a meal.
* * *
They ate at an outdoor restaurant, partially shaded from the elements by skinny, frayed umbrellas. Fela Kuti roared from a radio. A big man in khaki pants and a loud printed shirt owned the restaurant. He wrapped Job in a thundering embrace. "Oga! Doctor!" he said, "Mr. Doctor, how long are you staying with us?" Job told him he was with his wife on honeymoon, and the man proceeded to rattle off all the years he had known Job and his family. "This man's father is my father's cousin. I have known him since before he could stand."
Job ordered two Coronas. When the bottles arrived, sweating cool, wet pearls down the sides, he paid in u.s. dollars. Ifi and Job sat silently across from one another as he swallowed his Corona and then hers. Job sucked the layers of slippery flesh free of the fish bone as Ifi nibbled. She sat quietly — thinking of the magazine — and wondered, Is this how Americans pay my doctor husband? Light streamed in diagonally, cutting his face into odd patterns. His features seemed to surrender to his surroundings. Is this what America does to a man?
Finally she spoke, her voice low. "Are Americans so poor that they must ..." She couldn't finish her question without thinking of the naked doctor and patient.
Job sipped the beer and told her, "Money is time in America." Then he launched into telling her about the shops, the ladies' clothes, the shoes, and Ifi was no longer listening.
A beggar boy of perhaps nine moved from table to table with a pan full of peanuts. His lean, meatless face was filled with long lashes, and his sinewy limbs were shiny and exposed through the holes in his wrinkled Michael Jackson T-shirt.
Many of the dining couples flagged him away in annoyance or simply ignored him. But he refused to go unnoticed. He leaned into a table where a large woman and a thin man took up the seats. They were dressed well. He winked flirtatiously and clicked his teeth at the lady. "Mah," he said, smiling. "Mah."
"I will buy you a fur coat," Job said to Ifi. He would have to get one of fake fur.
"Mah," the boy said again.
"I am not your mama," the woman said, drawing her wobbly chin back. "I am not old enough to be your mama." Shifting her wig back, she turned away from him.
"This foolish boy," the man said. Still, with his knees pulled close together, he smiled and hunched forward, scraping the floor with a cane. He was old enough to be the woman's grandfather, much older than Job.
Ifi wondered how this man and woman had met. Ifi had met Job only once before their honeymoon. Even during the wedding, Job's junior brother had stood in while he was in America. All Ifi had remembered from her one meeting with Job was that his face was nothing more than a jagged relief etched on the dark. He'd sat across from Ifi, Aunty, and Uncle, all squeezed together on the smaller couch so that he could have the large one. Aunty and Uncle had unsuccessfully tried to borrow a generator for the occasion and had been forced to settle on kerosene, so they stiffly argued about Nepa, the oil truck drivers' strike, corrupt politicians, and the ongoing teachers' strike in abashed explanation. The kerosene had scrubbed roughly at Ifi's nostrils and throat. Outside, she'd heard the sounds of church services going on despite the dark along the length of their street. Children had been playing outside, chasing the rooster and dirtying their bony knees in the muddy roadway. She'd thought of how the ankles of the man who sat before her would, in light, appear like the children's: bloodied from the wet, dirt road.
Before they met, there were packages of gifts. At the time, Ifi knew nothing of the letters, pictures, and conversations with the people who would become her in-laws. All her life, Ifi had been instructed to tell neighbors, friends, agemates, that her father was away, whether they believed it or not. So she fooled herself into believing that the packages were from him — that he really did live in America or London or Germany, that he had never been arrested for suspicion of fraud, that he had never been investigated and then murdered before his arraignment. As her cousins paraded through the potholed streets of their neighborhood in blue jeans and sweaters that were too big for their slight frames and too bulky for the thick Nigerian heat, Ifi had imagined her father sitting behind a large desk in London, papers stacked neatly around him awaiting his signature.
Of the sweaters, blue jeans, and jewelry, Ifi kept nothing except for a red, gold-chained handbag that she took out only for church — and today. Only after the package's contents had been spread across the couches did Aunty and Uncle inform her that a man was coming to visit her. Aunty had watched her closely that day. "You see all the good things we've done for you? You, a skinny girl with nothing. No parents, sef. And now you will see America."
Ifi needed to ask Job about this America. Before leaving her cousins' laughter, Aunty's gossip, and Uncle's stories, she needed to know everything. But the skinny beggar boy was standing at their table now. Ifi began to shoo him away, but Job stopped him. The boy dumped the peanuts into his palms, tumbling his hands in such a way that he magically released the shells. He was grinning, proud of his work, but how could he be so pleased in his condition? She imagined him curled into a tight ball underneath a bridge near the hotel. The ground would be muddy, a deep red where the rain had softened the earth. If he slept deeply, he might not notice how close his face was to the water; the shit; the dead, malarial mosquitoes. Ifi shuddered. Instead of sitting at a fancy table alongside her doctor husband, she would have been an under-the-bridge girl, had it not been for Aunty and Uncle.
The little boy before her. Too small for his shirt. The shirt with all its holes. He would have gnats and lice in his hair. His skin, his lips, chalky from the residue of dusty dirt.
Job was still smiling in distracted amusement at the boy when Ifi thrust forward the bowl of peanuts. "Ngwa, go!" The peanuts splattered across the table and the floor. The boy's eyes met Ifi's in desperation, just for a second, before he averted his gaze to the ground in deference.
The restaurant owner was on them in seconds. He knocked the boy's head with the back of his hand. "Why must you disturb my customer? He is a doctor, here from America for only a short time. I will beat you today!" To Ifi and Job he said, "I am so sorry." The boy tried to run, but the man shoved him to the ground with his foot and began to beat him.
The boy whimpered and heaved tearless cries. "No, sah!" He turned to Ifi. "Sorry, Aunty!" he said. On his knees he begged, his thin, quivering frame on the floor before her.
Ifi's voice was small as she spoke. "Leave him." Everything stopped. A chill rose through her body. This was what it meant to be a big woman.
Half-bowing, half-fi lling the bowl, the boy attempted to sweep up the mess as he left. He would go hungry for the rest of the day, maybe the rest of the week, without the money he would have earned from the peanuts. "Leave him," Ifi said again, with force. "Ego," she said to Job. "We will pay for the nuts."
Job retrieved a few naira. He tossed them on the ground.
"Go," Ifi said. "Go!" The boy collected the money and ran as fast as his bony legs allowed.
When he was gone, the fat lady laughed into the skinny man's ears. The bartender brought Ifi and Job two more bottles of Corona. On the house. And Job said to no one in particular, "In America, boys like that are in school."
* * *
By the time they started back to the hotel, a steel gray had enveloped the orange sun as night began its descent. All around, the breeze interrupted the calm of long-necked palm trees. With their wares balanced on their heads, hawkers darted across the streets. Job's driver swerved through the gaps in the roadway with practiced turns that knocked Job and Ifi into one another. Each time they touched, Job felt the softness of her skin against his. He tried to reconcile this gentle touch with her harsh way with the boy, telling himself that he had been in America too long. Even the boy, with his tearless cries, had walked with his head erect. He would likely brag to the boys in his gang about how his crocodile tears had earned him double what they had earned. Now, more than ever, Job was glad to be home.
When they reached the hotel, they did not immediately return to their room. Instead, they made their way across the marble lobby floor that Job explained was imported from Spain, France, somewhere like that. A dull light glowed from the gift shop across the lobby. The gift shop was a boxedin room with shiny glass walls. From the outside, the glass walls, illuminated by shocks of overhanging lights, gave the illusion that the cramped space was larger than it actually was. Nearly every inch of its shelves was loaded with trinkets: jewelry, clay figurines, wood-carved masks. Paintings of women with baskets on their heads were hanging or leaned against the walls, filling every available space. As Ifi gazed at the objects, her eyes stilled on a painting of a couple in an amorous embrace.
"Do you like?" Job asked.
"No." A necklace of shiny shells and beads was the first item within Ifi's reach. She grabbed it.
For the first time, the storekeeper pulled away from the cash register and gave her attention to the pair. "Ah, lady of fashion," she said. Up until then, she had been curtained behind paintings across the room, her eyes idly following the couple as she leafed through a magazine. "You must buy the earrings and bracelet too, or it will not be complete."
Without complaint, Job purchased the jewelry and handed it to Ifi, mentally subtracting the cost from the wad of bills tucked away in his briefcase. When they left the gift shop, both knew that they would be heading to the empty room, the large bed tauntingly illustrating its sole purpose.
* * *
Ifi followed Job inside. Hot, stale air had settled for too long. Their bed had been remade, each pillow set delicately. The clothes Ifi had thrown about the room were neatly folded in their suitcases. Even the magazine was packed away as if the morning had never happened, as if Job and Ifi were entering for the first time.
Ifi set her handbag down and sat on the bed, the tiny package in her hands.
"Will you not try them?" Job asked.
Excerpted from Mr. and Mrs. Doctor by Julie Iromuanya. Copyright © 2015 Julie Iromuanya. Excerpted by permission of COFFEE HOUSE PRESS.
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Meet the Author
Julie Iromuanya has short stories and novel excerpts appearing or forthcoming in the Kenyon Review , Passages North, the Cream City Review , and the Tampa Review , among other journals. Her writing has been shortlisted for several awards, including the Glimmer Train Family Matters and Very Short Fiction prizes, and the Kenyon Review Short Fiction Contest. She has been awarded scholarships and fellowships for the Sewanee Writers' Conference, Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, and the Vermont Studio Center. She earned her PhD from the University of NebraskaLincoln and was the inaugural Herbert W. Martin Post-Graduate Fellow at the University of Dayton. A scholar and writer, Iromuanya teaches for the creative writing MFA at the University of Arizona. Mr. and Mrs. Doctor is her first novel.
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