419

419

Book - 2013
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A car tumbles through darkness down a snowy ravine. A woman without a name walks out of a dust storm in Africa. And in the seething heat of Lagos City, a criminal cartel scours the Internet, looking for victims. Lives intersect. Worlds collide. And it all begins with a single email: 'Dear Sir, I am the daughter of a Nigerian diplomat, and I need your help ... ' At once a chilling thriller about a lonely woman avenging her father's death and an epic portrait of morality and corruption across the globe, Will Ferguson's Giller Prize-winning novel plunges into the labyrinth of li
Publisher: New York, NY : Pintail, 2013
ISBN: 9780143188728
0143188720
Characteristics: 411 pages ; 21 cm

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wyenotgo
Aug 03, 2015

Despite its many shortcomings, this is a highly entertaining and engrossing read. Ferguson is perhaps best known as a travel writer, and to some extent this is a travel book. On the other hand, it's a modern-day cautionary tale about the well known sort of internet based scams originating in places such as Nigeria. It's also a story about family, loss, extreme environmental degradation, greed, exploitation, love and the search for revenge. That's a lot for one book, perhaps a little too much and Ferguson takes quite a while to draw the disparate strands of his story together. Of all his characters, only Nnamdi, whom we first meet as a little village boy and follow into manhood if fully drawn and extremely likeable. Even Laura, who is ostensibly the main protagonist, is a bit sketchy and her exploits in Africa require a good deal of suspension of disbelief -- in the real world, anyone taking the steps that she did would almost certainly have ended up gruesomely dead.
It's essentially just an adventure story; yet it does succeed in exploring some of the ambiguities of first-world versus third-world realities and raises the question of who the real criminals are.

j
jmikesmith
Feb 04, 2015

I've read news stories about "419" e-mail scams, in which Nigerian con men try to extract money from gullible Westerners. I've read about the civil unrest in the Niger delta, in which locals have attacked foreign-owned oil-drilling infrastructure and workers. I've also read about the entho-cultural tensions between Nigeria's Muslim north and its Christian south. News stories are simple and direct; they cover the basic facts, maybe give a personal anecdote or two. But they can't really give you a true feel for what it's like to be involved in those situations. Sometimes, a novel is a much better vehicle than a newspaper for getting inside a real-life situation that is far removed from the reader's everyday experience.

419 is such a novel. The title comes the section of the Nigerian criminal code prohibiting fraud. It shows how four viewpoint characters deal with Nigeria and its near failed-state condition. Laura is a Canadian woman whose father dies because of a 419 scam. She travels to Nigeria to find the culprit. Winston is a Nigerian scam artist who prides himself on his better-than-average e-mail letters begging for financial assistance from naive white people. His talents earn the attention of a local mob boss who wants a cut of his action. Nnamdi is a fisherman from the Niger Delta who has to adapt to the oil companies moving into his territory and changing everything. Amina is a young, unmarried, pregnant tribeswoman from the north who must leave her village if she is to avoid being killed to restore her family's honour.

Through these four characters, Will Ferguson shows us how modern Nigeria operates, in a potent, bittersweet novel that presents a society that is simultaneously traditional and tribal, and modern and dangerous. Ferguson is an elegant stylist, with a penchant for sentences that simply describe, without using verbs. Ferguson is a seasoned travel writer, and his ability to describe a place and its people is clearly displayed here.

The four viewpoint characters are all struggling to prosper in a world of disappointments. They are also, to greater or lesser degrees, trying to make a difference in that world, to be a hero to at least one other person. Their journeys are not particularly elaborate or convoluted, but they are beautifully described. Laura's resourcefulness in Nigeria seems a bit far-fetched. Overall, however, I found this a compelling, entertaining, and informative novel that left me with a better understanding of one small part of the world than I had before.

Seba001 Nov 30, 2014

The title refers to the email, and other, scams from Nigeria. The focus shifts to different viewpoints, including some compelling characters in Nigeria. There's an element of tension throughout.

j
jliska
Sep 02, 2014

This book we a disappointment. With a somewhat clunky writing style,.and with a number of different stories going on it became somewhat of a chore to read. I did not find the plot or the characters that engaging. If one is interested in the scams that underline the book's plot perhaps a non fiction book might have better.served the purpose. I read as much as I could, then started to skim the book and finally gave up. I cannot recommend it.

A patron review from the Adult Summer Game: "This is an interesting book that will keep you hooked until the very end. You won't be able to put it down!"

b
BookluvrShPk
Jul 20, 2014

Interesting book. Not the usual genre that I read but it held my interest. A bit disjointed, moving from one character's perspective to another. In the end it all comes together.

s
stewstealth
Jul 08, 2014

Well written novel with great characterizations and settings. This novel is entertaining and attempts to portray two sides to the fraud perpetrated from Nigeria. Definitely worth reading.

t
talktimereader
May 17, 2014

Interesting and gripping topic, somewhat disappointing ending. As we have all likely received those Nigerian email pleas, the background provides answers to many questions.

w
whitkat2002
Feb 22, 2014

A bit disappointing but certainly worth reading if you can accept the pacing--so many changes in plot lines in the first sections, and then a long tedious look at two characters who are marginal to the story and not that interesting as characters. Maybe the author's political views, while relevant, needed editing??? The subject was ambitious and brought an interesting perspective by pulling together at least two sides of a complex ethical issue. It would have been interesting to have more on the point of view of the corporate exploiters! While much of the plot was improbable, that made it more interesting to me. Imagine a copy editor taking on Nigerian mafia! As an English major, I loved the idea of using rhetorical analysis to track down a criminal!

b
bfowler
Nov 14, 2013

This was an excellent novel that kept my interest all the way through it (which is hard to do). Some have criticized the weakness of the basic plot - that a retired school teacher would fall for a Nigerian email scam - but that is a minor problem. The author skillfully weaves the plot lines of four main characters back and forth while taking us on a fascinating voyage through the harsh realities of life in Nigeria. While we are offended by anyone who would cheat an unsuspecting person out of his...more

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Wenyuxu
Apr 27, 2013

"...the most important aspects of someone's life are the very things not listed in an index..." (39)

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Wenyuxu
Apr 27, 2013

"Let Heavens be done, through justice falls." (36)

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Wenyuxu
Apr 27, 2013

"Fountains of glass showering outward and then- a vacuum of silence collapsing back in" (3)

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Wenyuxu
Apr 27, 2013

Wenyuxu thinks this title is suitable for 14 years and over

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