"419" by Will Ferguson
Countries: Nigeria as primary, Canada as secondary
Will Ferguson, primarily a humourous travel writer, seemed a fitting choice for my first book review of 2013. Throughout the year, I'm going to write a review for every novel I read that is set in another country - I like the idea of how a book can inspire a trip and vice versa, and a great read can help bridge the quiet days between great escapes.
419 can be described in one word: rich. The words are lush and juicy, the narrative smooth and flowing. The descriptions of Nigeria are incredible - Ferguson does an amazing job covering the country as he covers the lives of his characters. Tribes, ethnicities, alliances, boundaries - he steers the reader from the oil rich Delta into the pale, stinging dust of the dessert, and back around to the putrid chaos of Lagos with ease. This is a proper book: great characters, vivid settings, the stories staying in your head long after you are done. A work most deserving of the Giller Prize - Canada's highest literary honor.
419, of course, refers to the section of the Nigerian criminal code that addresses the infamous internet fraudsters. Long-exiled Nigerian princes, needing your bank account and gullibility to seal the deal. A mysterious death in Calgary - an even more mysterious woman walking across the dessert. A small time fraudster with big time dreams, top shelf gangster with gutter morals, and an unassuming copy editor with nerves of steel. My only complaint about this book is that a few minor story lines were not concluded to my satisfaction. Minor really. Maybe designed to keep a reader guessing. Yet lingering enough for me to rate the book an A- instead of A+
Does this book make me want to travel to Nigeria? Unfortunately, absolutely not. Ferguson paints a stark picture of a seedy underworld that had me nervous when I was reading - I definitely feel like this is not a place for me!
A final tip: The book may be 30% off at your local bookstore. Being a major award winner, it could be on the best seller discount list. If not, buy it on an e-reader. You can also buy the book through my Amazon Store here. Award winners will stay in hardcover longer than the average book and, when it does come out in paperback, it is likely to be large format. No cheap, light pocket novel is forthcoming here!