87 of 88 people found the following review helpful
When I think of Canadian author Will Ferguson, it is his travel memoirs that immediately spring to mind. That and his rich sense of humour (He has won The Leacock Medal for Humour numerous times.)
419 takes us in a completely different direction....
We've all received them. In fact Barrister Salvadore Gallarto sent me one this morning. Can I help him with repatriating 8.5 million euros? It's a simple matter really. I'm sure that every reader has had one of these land in our inbox. And we promptly trash them. But what if you didn't?
Laura Curtis is heartbroken when her elderly father Henry is killed in an auto accident. But on further investigation, it appears he deliberately left the road. Why would he do such a thing? Further digging by the local Calgary police on his computer uncovers the truth - he had become embroiled in a 419 scam...."I can help...." (419 is the Nigerian criminal code for "obtaining money or goods under false pretenses.)
On the other side of the world in Nigeria, we follow the story of Winston - a 419 scammer. And Amina - a young pregnant woman walking her way across the country, escaping from something. And Nnamdi, a young man from the depths of the Niger Delta.
In the beginning, I wondered how these disparate stories would tie together, but Ferguson deftly weaves an absolutely riveting plot. The criminal underbelly of Nigeria is presented in all of it's seediness. But really, it is the story of Nnamdi that captured me the most. His story is given the most page space and he is the character I felt I 'knew' the most. The effect of the oil industry on a country and its' people is disheartening. The death of her father changes Laura as well. She becomes single minded, after years of staying safely within the confines of the small world she has created. She decides to go to Nigeria and find the man responsible for her father's death. I didn't feel I really got to know Laura and found her sudden about face to be a bit of a stretch.
419 is many things - a mystery, a thriller and a social commentary. I turned the final page with a sense of sadness. Varying degrees, but for most of the characters. Ferguson's tale of the story behind one of these schemes brings a very human face to what most see as a simple nuisance entry handled by a quick tap on the delete button.
An unusual, introspective and recommended read.
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Will Ferguson may be known for works that feature humour and may otherwise be interpreted as lighthearted, maybe lightweight. 419 is none of these.
Starting with a "what if" scenario . . . What if someone actually responds to and tries to help one of these people in a Nigerian e-mail scam? From there we get a tour of both ends of the scenario in a well-researched, gripping read that incorporates its knowledge seamlessly into a well-constructed narrative. This is a book that will surprise you, teach you and make you think. It will make you sad.
But it gets us in touch with something that is real, that is part of the world we live in, and for that we can be grateful. And we can safely conclude that Will Ferguson is not only a humour writer, he is a simply a great writer.
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on October 4, 2012
Everyone gets them. You know, those pesky spams with a Nigerian address promising you a good return if only you will allow funds to be deposited into your account. The spam speaks in terms of desperation and the urgent need to help someone in Nigeria unlock a family wealth. Will Fergusan takes us on the ride where someone (the sucker that is born every day) actually follows through with a response to the spam. He opens the book with a thrill ride and accident in Canada. It is the investigation of the accident that leads his family to travel to Nigeria. It is an opportunity for a look into the life of "normal" life in Nigeria and get into the down and dirty of corruption at many levels. What makes the 419 criminal? Theft can be theft of resources, theft of property, or the transfer of wealth from the rich to the poor.
The book is informative as a travelog to a place one would not normally thinks as a vacation hot spot. Nigeria is a poor country, rich in resources but poor in real management for the people. 419 refers to the Nigerian criminal code dealing with theft. I suspect Will Fergusan is referring to the Big Oil and the Nigerian government itself as the criminals. Everyone else is a victim. Great, easy read and recommended.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on October 16, 2012
Mr. Ferguson, Thank you so much for this amazing book. I've read most of your others and was not at all sure what to expect of this one. I now know why you were nominated for a Giller....it is much deserved with this effort. Please more, sir! -a fellow Calgarian
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Will Ferguson is a Canadian writer based in Calgary, who is best known for his works of humour and his travel writing. In his novel 419, he undertakes what is arguably a more ambitious task, and succeeds brilliantly.
419 opens with a winter car crash just outside Calgary. A cold evening in one of the coldest countries in the world. The story continues in the hot sands of Nigeria. In the past, it might have been said that this cannot be the same story.
But in fact, 419 is in many ways a meditation on the nature of globalization. The story traces the path of Laura, as she investigates the untimely and suspicious death of her father, an investigation that leads her to the opposite end of the world.
This is not the Disney version of globalization, `It's a small world after all', much less Coca-Cola's `I'd like to teach the world to sing.' It is the version of globalization in which Nigeria is just as connected to Calgary as it is to Africa - by oil, by money, by the Internet. And rather than a rising tide lifting all boats, it is a race to the bottom in which desperate people take desperate measures, and organized crime has global reach and deadly consequences.
419 follows the apparently disconnected paths of Laura, Winston, Amina and Nnambi, to reveal that they are in fact connected. In this the book may remind some readers of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's film Babel, especially since Ferguson is a master of description, and 419 has a very cinematographic feel to it.
Ferguson's keen powers of observation, honed in his travels around the world, serve him well, and 419 is an intriguing novel that builds to an enthralling conclusion. Recommended!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 5, 2013
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The author wrote about the problems with oil development in Nigeria and the way it affects the local population. This was in addition to the email scams that we hear so much about. I haven't read very many books that look at the problems in Nigeria (Little Bee being the only other one) so this was very interesting to me.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 11, 2012
Thoroughly good read, and very inventive plot! Highly entertaining, and as predicted, fast-paced! The pity I felt for the way the delta dwellers of Nigeria have been treated took me by surprise!
The story of 419 is one that we are all confronted with everyday if we are at all involved with the internet. There are people out there who will go to great lengths to get our money in fraudulent ways. Although I have never "answered" the different members of African royalty who have written me over the years (or those who promise me great riches in the easiest way possible), I have often wondered what happens to those who do. 419 recounts the tale of a woman whose father got lost in such fraud and her attempt to make sense of this trauma and repair some of the broken pieces.
But hers is not the only story. If there is any kind of idea that emerges from 419 it is that in different ways, people are connected and it doesn't take much to have paths cross and destinies change or change again. 419 tells several stories about people who's lives are affected by this one internet scam.
This story and its sub stories are particularly well written. I had never read Ferguson, but I am glad that I came across this novel. In 419, he masters the art of beginning stories in completely different spheres and bringing them slowly, meticulously, and tantalizingly, closer together until they touch. This is an extremely well written novel in a style that has often been attempted by others, with much less success.
The questions are only raised implicitly and the different outcomes are never really consumed - there is always the impression that the author is keeping something from us, not completely revealing what he really wants to say by leaving bits and parts of the story untold and unfinished. But perhaps this is where we should be asking questions: in difficult circumstances as in the easy ones, do we really get a handle on what is happening to us? to others around us? or are we simply working with the information we have, presuming that it is complete? Perhaps there is enough in 419 to help us continue entertain doubt about humanity and our capacity for happiness. Perhaps there is a note about how such a search may prove to be fruitless. Perhaps we don't know exactly what we are really looking for until we find it.
A strongly written novel and a wonderful read.
I LOVED this book. I didn't realize that Will Ferguson is actually a travel writer - but that does come across in this book.
First off, this book is a wonder of imagery and descriptions. I have never been to Nigeria, but I feel as though I know the people and the places better after having read this book. Secondly, the characters - each and every one of them, felt so real and tangible.
I have to say my one complaint about the book is that each section (it's divided in parts: Snow, Sand, Fuel and Fire) focuses mostly on one character (still slightly interweaving the other stories though) to the point where, when I'd start the next section it would take me a moment to want to engage more fully on a new character and leave the other one behind. But Ferguson does such a brilliant job of bringing everything and everyone together in the end that this is a slight complaint.
This is really a story about people, what we would do for our families, how we grieve, how we survive, how we react. It's about life - the dirty side of it as well as the beautiful side. Highly recommended.
I would never have finished this book if, while looking for a summary, I hadn’t come across a review in the “Globe and Mail.” T.F. Rigelhof writes that from page 187 on, the book becomes “riveting and provocative.” This is when the character Nnamdi is introduced, a Nigerian of Ijaw decent whose home on the delta has been polluted by oil. The book begins in Canada with Laura’s father committing suicide after having lost his house and money in a 419 scam. Mr. Ferguson devotes far too many pages to explanations of the process, which, I believe is fairly familiar to us all. Then we're introduced to Amina, the pregnant girl, who conveniently comes from the interior of Nigeria so that Mr. Ferguson can provide us with lengthy descriptions of the landscape and markets and truck stops. In Lagos live the 419 scammers, Winston, the upstart responsible for initially hooking Laura’s dad to the sting and Ironsi-Egobi, the mafia leader known for his tuberculosis type cough who bullies Winston's "enterprise" away from his. The descriptions of characters and settings (perhaps a reflection of Mr. Ferguson's travel writing experience) would definitely have benefited from extensive editing. As well, he might have reconsidered his ending. Despite the depressing Nigerian setting, the writing is generally light and upbeat which is a Godsend when you’re skimming the first 186 pages. Though, at the end, he turns the thriller narrative on its head to provide an allegorical ending. “419” is a good book that could have been a whole lot better.