Book - 2012
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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.

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.

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!"
Patron review 2: This book hits close to home with all the ponzi and investment scams here in Alberta. Will was able to make the story almost personal. The space and story sequence just make the book hard to put down.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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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Sep 01, 2013

Well rendered exploration of modern 'business' developed in a place where people have no opportunities. Most chilling piece for me was when Sgt Brisboise said he had been to Lagos and Laura asked him what it was like. He replied "It was like looking into the future."

Jul 25, 2013


ser_library Jul 13, 2013

interesting to skim

Jun 02, 2013

Very disappointed. I was 'on hold' for several months for this novel but am returning it practically un-read. The plot seemed very interesting because I know next to nothing about internet scamming, PLUS it won the Giller, but it read more like a made-for-TV-movie -- I was seeing it more than reading it -- and the characters were too caricatur-ish for my taste. I was unwilling to spend precious reading time to go beyond the first few unpromising pages of this novel.

This won over Ru?? Unbelievable!!

May 06, 2013

How this book won anything is beyond me. It is disjointed, all over the place, has way too many story lines and frankly is not very interesting.

It would have been a better read had he just concentrated on one or two storylines. Is the book about scamming, tribal warfare, neo-colonialism, big oil, corruption or just plain human cruelty? He takes on way too much. Storylines have no resolution and no purpose. Is Brisboise going to continue staring up at her apartment building forever.

It could have been a winner if he wrote a non-fiction book about scamming.

As you can know doubt tell I did not enjoy this book and would not recommend it to anyone.

Apr 27, 2013

Beautiful writing, great theme and eventful storyline.

Apr 13, 2013

I will add my voice to those who were surprised that it won the Giller. It's a well-written book but the pacing of the plot is way off: too much exposition and not enough resolution. Still worth a read, in my opinion, but do so with modest expectations.

Mar 27, 2013

This novel explores greed, indebtedness, injustice and pride. It underlines the importance forgiving oneself & others, given the consequences of the alternative.

The writing style was good. All of the grammatical thoughts of the copy editor were irritating (yes, she has technical writing skills and they shape how she thinks - I get it already!). I enjoyed some of the storylines more than others (Amina's journey through the desert was slow and dull), but I liked how they came together in the end.

ontherideau Mar 20, 2013

Sometimes I hear a news story about a scam and I wonder how anyone would fall for it- then along comes Will Ferguson and makes it believable.

Mar 20, 2013

Disappointing for the 2012 Giller Prize winner. One thread of the interweaving narratives is the havoc and unintended consequences created by a Westerner as a result of her trip to Nigeria and naive understanding of life there. Similarily, the author sees Nigeria through a Western lens, portraying the country negatively and unconvincingly. Only the greed and destruction wrought by the big oil companies rings true.

Feb 07, 2013

What happens when one gets caught up in the con game, the email that is known worldwide. In Nigeria, it refers to the law (419) where one cons someone out of something. Twisting stories whereby you meet a Canadian family and their tragedy that has just occured. But there is more... two different people in Africa are about to meet and see how all their lives are entangled like the Nigeria jungles. Admittedly, the ending is not what you think.

Dec 06, 2012

interesting, but not worthy of the Giller Prize. The characters were somewhat one-dimensional - I wasn't sure why they did some of the things they did, or how they decided on those actions. It was hard to feel sympathy for most of them in the end, and I ended up not even liking most of them.

It bogged down (almost literally) in the middle part with a full description of the oil industry in the Niger Delta - a bit preachy.

Nov 01, 2012

Will Ferguson just won the 2012 Giller Prize for this title! Congratulations to him!

Sep 30, 2012

I really enjoyed reading this book and highly recommend it. The descriptions of the smells and heat of Nigeria are so vivid that you feel like you're right there. Great story and very informative about e-scamming as well as the effects on the land and culture due to crude oil extraction.

Aug 08, 2012

This book is an excellent thriller about Internet scams originating from Nigeria. I have to admit that I did not know where the story was going while I was reading it, but it all comes clear in the last part... A great read that will inform you on the history of Nigeria and its people.

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