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419: A Novel by Will Ferguson

419: A Novel (edition 2012)

by Will Ferguson

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3363932,756 (3.68)96
Title:419: A Novel
Authors:Will Ferguson
Info:Viking Canada (2012), Hardcover, 416 pages

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419 by Will Ferguson



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In Calgary, Canada, a man drives his car over a cliff hoping (in vain) that the life insurance settlement will compensate his family for his losing everything they owned. He is just one of many victims of a type of fraud known as a Nigerian 419 scheme. His daughter, Laura, and the rest of the family later sit in stunned disbelief as the police explain how her father was lured in by e-mails promising a rich reward for helping a person in need. They are also astonished to learn that there is nothing the police can, or will, do to pursue the defrauder. When asked about taking action as an individual, the police advise strongly against it, saying that it's almost impossible to recover the money, and that going to Nigeria is very dangerous. "What if it's not about the money?", Laura asks.[return][return]For a number of years I worked as the manager of an IT department, and it was my job to educate the employees in my organization about these 419 schemes, most, but not all, of which originate in Nigeria. (The number "419" refers to a Nigerian penal statute.) I have seen many variations of the initial fraud message, and I have had highly educated people take the first steps toward disaster, only to bring copies of their correspondence to me for reassurance before taking the final bait. They are always dumbfounded to learn that nothing can be done about these fraud attempts. So I am speaking from some personal experience when I say that Will Ferguson has perfectly captured not only the modus operandi of the schemers, but the psychology of the prospective victims. It's unthinkable that intelligent people would fall for such frauds, even after having been warned, but they do.[return][return]Laura is a copy editor and highly attuned to patterns in English usage and common mistakes. She will use her skills to track down the man who caused her father to take his own life. She will go to Nigeria. We know this from the beginning of the novel because Ferguson's narrative is broken into dozens of short chapters shifting back and forward in time and from place to place, and we have seen Laura arrive in Lagos before we know why. But Laura's quest for retribution is actually not the predominate theme of the novel. 419 gives us a panoramic portrait of Nigeria through the eyes of three Nigerians, one of whom is the defrauder himself. [return][return]One of the others is a young woman named Amina from the arid northern savannas where Islamic law is in force. Expelled from her village for an unwed pregnancy, she undertakes a perilous journey across a parched land, begging, stealing, and scavenging among garbage for food.[return][return]The third Nigerian, and in some respects the central character of the novel, is Nnamdi, a boy from a fishing village in the mangrove swamps of the Niger River delta. Through him, and over the course of several years, we see the impact of oil exploration and drilling on Nigeria. Forests are bulldozed, crops destroyed, rivers poisoned, and the air and water turned foul by what one villager calls "the devil's excrement." Oil companies from Europe and America operating free of environmental controls and government oversight turn the delta into a sewer and take unconscionable risks. Corruption spreads, the farmers and fishermen become beggars or criminals, while the rich hide in fortified compounds and drive armored limousines.[return][return]The author gives us a vivid and sometimes horrifying picture of Nigeria: its ethnic diversity, economic disparity, and chaotic violence. Homeless children scavenge in raw sewage in the shadow of gleaming office towers. Young men sabotage oil pipelines in the hope of being hired by the oil company to clean up the mess they made. There are riots for fuel in a country rich with oil, and the army and the police fight one another. Interwoven with the Nigerian scenes, the story of Laura's quest for vengeance maintains an edge-of-your-seat tension.[return][return]The weakest aspect of 419 is that some elements of Laura's story beg for further development. Her plans seem to depend all too often on the unlikeliest of several possible outcomes, as though the ending is pulling the story to it. But the broader scope of the novel, its depiction of today's Nigeria, and the insightful portrayal of the psychology surrounding the 419 fraud schemes make this a book I highly recommend. ( )
  Dolmance | Oct 29, 2015 |
In 419, Ferguson has created a juxtaposition of worlds that will grip you from the first page to the last.

In Calgary, police investigate the car tracks which lead to a fatal plunge through the guardrails. In Lagos, Nigeria, young shysters pack internet shops to write emails to rich Westerners from Nigerian Diplomats (a crime known by its Nigerian criminal code number, 419). In northern Nigeria, a young marked woman walks south for survival. In the oil-rich Niger Delta, trees are bulldozed and old traditions come to an end as multinational oil companies move in.

My first exposure to Ferguson was his travel narrative of Japan, Hitching Rides With Buddha. Although he's also known as a comic writer, humor takes a back seat in 419. He uses his skills as a travel writer to make the various locations come alive.

While 419 is a page-turner, there's far more to it than an average mystery novel. Ferguson has so fully fleshed-out the various settings and character perspectives, you will turn the chapter only to find yourself sympathizing with the villain.

Another fine element of this book was the conclusion (which I won't give away). While it's incredibly satisfying, it's also unexpected. From a Christian perspective, it was fittingly redemptive. That's all I can say about that!

If you read fiction, buy and read 419. Just be sure to set aside enough time to finish it. You will not want to put it down. ( )
  StephenBarkley | Aug 29, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I received this book as part of the LT Early Reviewer Program. I was very excited when I won this book and was eager to begin reading it. Unfortunately, I had a very hard time getting into the book and it really didn't hold my attention. To be honest, after several attempts of trying to read it, I was never able to bring myself to finish reading it.
  vindemia | Mar 21, 2014 |
When Laura and Warren's father drives himself off a cliff, it looks suspicious. The police quickly learn that Henry was being scammed by one of those Nigerian email scams.

In the first half of the book, I was ready to give this 3.5 stars (good), but when an additional character was introduced about halfway through and so much focused on him, I brought it down to 3 stars (ok). The parts that focused on Henry's family and on Winston, the guy in Nigeria behind the scam, I liked enough to rate good. However, there were two other characters that a lot of the book focused on (especially in the second half). I didn't find them nearly as interesting or entertaining to read about. I did learn more about those scams which was kind of interesting. Overall, I'm going to rate this one 3 stars, o.k. ( )
  LibraryCin | Feb 2, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 39 (next | show all)
So what to make of 419? Surely, talented authors should stretch their bounds. Ferguson can do many things, from travel writing to joke-telling to satire. What he can’t do is present believable earnestness. As an artist, 419 plays to all of his faults, and few of his talents. He has attempted to test himself by writing an international tragedy in the vein of Michael Ondaatje, but has imported many more of Ondaatje’s excesses than achievements.
The novel is further enlivened by sharp dialogue and imagery. Looking out from her apartment window at Calgary’s crane-crowned winter skyline, Laura sees “a city that was constantly erasing and rewriting itself. A cold city, exhaling steam.” Later, Nnamdi remembers the day the men from the oil company suddenly emerged from the dense mangrove thickets to stake the villagers’ ancestral land: “More and more men boiled out of the [jungle] gap like ants.”

But too often, especially in the novel’s first half, the prose reveals a talented author working against the instincts and storytelling gifts that served him so well in his other works. Hopefully Ferguson finds equally compelling material to work with in his next novel, be it comic or otherwise, and this time trusts his gut a little more.
added by vancouverdeb | editQuill and Quire
Until Ferguson’s characters move toward inevitable confrontations in Lagos, 419 suffers some drag. But from roughly page 187 on, you won’t sleep until you finish, and then rest won’t come easily. Riveting. Provocative.
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A car, falling through darkness.
"Four one nine is not a game, it is a contest of wills," Ironsi-Egobia continued. "It is Nigerian cunning versus oyibo greed, and in such a tussle, cunning always has the advantage. Why? Because greed clouds men's eyes, fogs their gaze. Cunning focuses it. We are tax collectors, Adam. We charge a tax on greed. We should be congratulated, not prosecuted, and yet it is we who are called the criminals. Criminals! They talk about Nigeria's 'culture of corruption.' What of Europe's 'culture of greed'? What of America's? What of these oyibos agreeing to schemes that are so clearly illegal, were they to be true? Moving millions of dollars out of a poverty-stricken nation, profiteering on Nigeria's hardships? Are the mugus not criminals too? Aspiring criminals, but criminals still. Are they not accomplices as much as they are victims? This is what the fools at the EFCC fail to see."
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Book description
A startlingly original tale of heartbreak and suspense

A car tumbles down a snowy ravine. Accident or suicide?

On the other side of the world, a young woman walks out of a sandstorm in sub-Saharan Africa. In the labyrinth of the Niger Delta, a young boy learns to survive by navigating through the gas flares and oil spills of a ruined landscape. In the seething heat of Lagos City, a criminal cartel scours the internet looking for victims.

Lives intersect, worlds collide, a family falls apart. And it all begins with a single email: “Dear Sir, I am the son of an exiled Nigerian diplomat, and I need your help ...”

419 takes readers behind the scene of the world’s most insidious internet scam. When Laura’s father gets caught up in one such swindle and pays with his life, she is forced to leave the comfort of North America to make a journey deep into the dangerous back streets and alleyways of the Lagos underworld to confront her father’s killer. What she finds there will change her life forever ...

From the internationally bestselling travel writer Will Ferguson, author of Happiness™ and Spanish Fly, comes a novel both epic in its sweep and intimate in its portrayal of human suffering. It’s a story of love in a time of darkness, of one woman’s search for redemption, and of a young boy who will triumph above it all.
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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.… (more)

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