Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Calgary Book Club: Will Ferguson's "419"

You never know what you'll get roped into 
when you visit the sibs!

Like hosting your sister's book club 
while she is still wonky 
from anesthesia and post-operative drugs.

"Don't worry!  
All you will have to do is uncork the wine," 
says the patient-to-be, Barb.
"I'll join you for the discussion, if I feel up to it."
"And get reading the book:
419 by Will Ferguson,"
says a second sister, Donnie.

I google it to discover that 419 
is the 2012 winner of the $50,000 
Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Book Club Read

Did I mention 
that it was a Canadian author book club?
That Barnes & Noble didn't have it in its system?
That I sat through a five hour layover in Las Vegas 
to save $400 on my plane fare 419-less?

419-less in Las Vegas

Did I mention 
that I had to burn through 393 pages 
after my sister's operation 
and before the book club meeting the next evening?
That it killed me to fly through a great book
unable to savor the spare beauty of its writing
and to read for plot?
That I'm reading it again for sheer pleasure?

A Third Sister, Bertie, 
Grading in the Hospital Cafeteria ~ Not Reading

The title 419 refers to an article 
in the Nigerian Criminal Code dealing with fraud.  
The book is built around Nigerian 419 email scams 
where victims are taken for money
in an advance fee fraud.
This type of confidence fraud 
dates as far back as Elizabethan times.

419 Fraud Poster

A victim is sent a letter, now an email, 
soliciting help for someone who is in trouble.
In its simplest form, 
the victim sends the scammer money to help 
in return for more money 
once the person in trouble is rescued.
The scammer gains the confidence of the victim
to extract as much money as possible from his target.

The Internet allows 419 scammers 
to fish in a worldwide pool to hook a vicim.

Routing Paths on a Portion of the Internet

The characters and settings make this book come alive.
From Calgary, Canada, 
"a cold city, exhaling steam . . ."

Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Map of Western Canada
Featuring Calgary

. . . to Lagos, Nigeria, 
"a honeycombed hive kicked open."

Lagos, Nigeria

Long after the details of 419 have faded,
the characters in this story will remain vivid to me.

In Calgary there is the Curtis family:
Henry, his wife, and their adult children
Laura and Warren.

Henry is a retired teacher, 
currently employed as a part-time watchman.
He falls victim to a Nigerian 419 scam
with tragic consequences for his family and himself.

Mrs. Curtis withdraws, Warren blusters,
and Laura decides to do something about it.

A single, lonely, and sheltered
copyright editor who works at home in her condo
in Calgary's Northill (in the book) Centre shopping mall,
Laura steps way outside her comfort zone
to attempt to right the wrongs 
that have been inflicted on her family.

North Hill Centre, Calgary 

Murtala Mohammed International Airport
Lagos, Nigeria

In Nigeria there are three main characters,
one unforgettable crime boss,
and a number of minor characters.

Amina is a young pregnant girl of the Sahel
who emerges from a sub-Saharan sandstorm
and walks to a perilous future
to escape a more perilous past.

                          Women of the Sahel Washing Dishes                   The Sahel, Africa

Winston is a smart and educated young Nigerian
with few prospects for a successful future
who is drawn into a criminal cartel
because of his computer savvy.

A Street in Lagos, Nigeria

Nnamdi, the character who haunts me,
is the son of a fisherman
who leaves the ecological devastation
encompassing his village in the Niger Delta
for a chance at a more prosperous future.

File:COLLECTIE TROPENMUSEUM Vissers met hun vangst in de Niger rivier nabij Mopti TMnr 20016798.jpg     

Fishermen on the Niger Delta


          Niger Delta                                             Port Harcourt, Niger Delta

And that one unforgettable crime boss?
the ruthless head of a criminal cartel
whose power spreads
from his base on Lagos Island
throughout his impoverished 
and politically destabilized nation.

 Lagos Island, Nigeria

419 weaves the strands of the characters' lives 
into a sprawling, complex story 
that highlights the contradictions 
of opportunity, finance, and culture 
between the wealthy, oil-dependant West
and the desperately poor, oil-producing Nigeria.

The novel does explore the serious 
human rights and environmental degradation problems
that are the consequence of the complicity
of multinational oil companies 
and corrupt military regimes in Nigeria.

To me, this is even more fascinating
than the novel's main plot centered on 419 scams.
Much can be found on-line about the history 

Oil Pipeline Sabotage, Nigeria 

Because I had to leave 419 behind in Calgary,
I scanned a number of reviews to get details correct.
I quickly discovered that there is 
a wide divergence of opinion about 419.
One critic dislikes what another likes and vice versa.

I found the novel informative, enjoyable, 
and well worth the time I have invested in it.
I will not easily forget 419
and I will read more of Will Ferguson's work.

My thanks to Donnie's and Barb's fellow book club members
for introducing me to a great Canadian read 
and for welcoming me into their gathering.
The food, wine, conversation, and friendship
was warm and memorable. 


  1. I do remember receiving numerous scam requests over the years wondering why/who would succumb to this obvious and blatant attempt to pry my hard earned money out of my hands. I haven't read the book and no doubt won't, not because I don't want to, but because I get too emotional over this kind of thing. People ripping off people like that or any other manner, just turns my stomach.
    Too bad you had to come to Canada to find out about his book. Just imagine all the other books you may have missed these passed 30 years while living south of the border. 'Canada Reads' every February on CBC radio has a discussion/vote/winner of a prize. 5 books are discussed and each day during one week of Feb one book is voted off the list. This years winner was about the Ocean Ranger disaster in NFLD in 1982. Here's a LINK.
    Just another lead to some Canadian reading.

    Thanks Louise

    1. Hi Ron!
      We've faced the scammers, too, Ron! It's quite amazing how they try to lure you in. I don't understand how people can do such cruel things to others. And let's not even go to what has happened in Nigeria.

      I'm now beginning "Eclipse" by Richard North Patterson a story about a fictional African country named Luandia. The story is firmly rooted in events that occurred in Nigeria about two decades ago. It's all about political corruption and the collusion between Big Oil and corrupt military dictators. Did I mention most of my family is employed in the Oil Patch? Hee hee! I'm sure I'll be reviewing it, too!

      Thanks for the link. I'll definitely follow up. My sister Barb had a friend who went down on the Ocean Ranger. That's the inspiration for a song called "Atlantic Blue" that I play over and over. So, the winning book will be very interesting to me!

      Have a good evening!

  2. Now aren't you happy you were 'forced' to read this book, Louise? It really does sound interesting. Thanks so much for this review. I feel more enlightened about this well-known novel. I am always surprised that people 'fall' for these scams. Aren't you?

    1. Yes, Jim, this is one time I was delighted to be "forced" into something! I can't believe how people are suckered in with these scams! Several years ago some group hacked into Terry's hotmail account, stole his addresses, sent out an email soliciting help for Terry who was supposedly stranded in London, England. You would be amazed at how many relatives and friends contacted us to make sure Terry was all right! It blew us away. I got regular scam letters on my school email account, and they got past the district's spam firewalls. Delete. Delete. Delete! Have a good evening!

  3. Yeah those friggin scammers are everywhere, not sure how some people all for some but they must if the scams keep going, I can see certain scams working from the good at it scammers. But things like King Abubu wanting to spend his fortune with you, pffft riiiight.

    1. Hi Patt! This type of scammer has been around since at least Elizabethan times! Had to imagine! I don't believe anything! That's my defense.

  4. Now that sounds like a good book, I have had a few of those emails.

    1. It's amazing how many of these emails surface! The firewall on my school district server would block emails from my family and let the scammers through! It was very frustrating. I thoroughly enjoyed the book!

  5. I've run across some news articles lately about these types of scams. One of them was about an elderly man who lost everything and is now renting one room in someone's basement. All he has left fits in that room. Elderly people are quite vulnerable, particularly when they are isolated. But they are not the only victims. People who are younger, people who you would never suspect would fall for these scams, do. It's quite alarming. I think almost everyone who has an email account has at one time or another received one of those scam-filled emails. Alarm bells should go off any time money is involved. I get a good laugh out of those inheritance types, where I stand to receive millions of dollars if only I send this small x amount of bucks. Who, I think, has added me to their will? I'm an introvert, for crying out loud...I hardly know anyone aside from my small group of friends and family members... :)

    This book sounds really interesting! I've run across it but haven't considered reading it; mostly because no one has ever mentioned it. But now, you have, so I will give it a try!

    1. Thank you for your comment, Martha! I apologize for just now replying ~ I've been digging out from under my To-Do List. I hear you ~ like anyone would leave this introvert $$$! I certainly thought "419" was well worth the time!

  6. I have been caught up in scams due to my trusting gullible nature. Sounds like you had a great time reading the book. The plot might be a little difficult for me to keep up with.

    1. Hi Paul! There is no shame in getting caught up in a scam because you are trusting and kind hearted. These scammers are brilliant. The plot of 419 isn't as complicated as it seems. I'm finding now that I have to read a dozen or two pages, go back and reread, and then go on with most books. I'm attributing that sad fact to running tired! Our world needs more people like you in it, and I'm glad that Kay sent me to your blog.

  7. The book sounds fascinating!
    I received a scam email that was a situation similar to Terry's. It was supposedly from my friend (her account had been hacked), and said she was in dire trouble. She couldn't tell me where she was, but she needed my help (money), and I couldn't tell anyone. It was very disturbing to receive this. I figured it was a scam, but I was still concerned for my friend - the world can be an ugly place. She was fine, and mortified that all of her friends got this email.

    1. It was fascinating, Terry! Thank goodness your friend had friends who cared enough to alert her to what was going on. The world can be ugly ~ that's why I like to escape to my park and the muleys and birds! Boomer is a beautiful escape too!

  8. It sounds like a complex and layered book. Glad you enjoyed it!

    1. Thanks Debra! Thinking of you on your trip and hoping all is well. Save travels to you!

  9. These scams are becoming more and more complex these days and I feel so badly for the people who fall prey to them :(

    1. I agree, OE! The damage that scams like these inflict on people are heartbreaking.

  10. What a great book review. I was mesmerized. I think this is a book I must read. You know there is something about Canadians novels. They all have a feeling that the characters have their backs against a million miles of tundra. I can't describe it more than that, just something a little colder than you would find in American or British writing. Great post!!!

    1. Thank you for your encouraging words, Francie! What a great description of Canadian novels! I have never heard it expressed better! Sorry I'm so late responding ~ I've been buried in piles of must dos!

  11. Great post and sounds like an intriguing read!
    I have been aware of these scams since a I was a child, through a friend of my fathers being mixed up in one. A friend of ours, recently, was just about to send her daughter over to Africa with a 'case' of cash - we stopped her. In both cases it was really greed that drove/blinded them (both promised untold riches!) because if it is too good to be true, it generally is!! Very sad.

    1. Hi Ivan! I'm so glad that you stopped your friend in time. It is very sad how cruel people prey on others. Thanks for the kind words!

  12. My head is spinning from your review - it sounds very complex! The book sounds fascinating because I'm betting we have all received emails for help from long lost cousins, kings, forgotten relatives, etc. My dad has been the target of some questionable groups and his old-age innocence surprises me. He really believes what the phone solicitors are telling him.
    I am a member of an Aurora book club... and I'm reading the selection for our April meeting. I, too, like to savor a good book and don't like to be rushed - so I'm glad I got this one, Raising Jake, well in advance of the meeting.
    What a wonderful sister you are to take over the book club meeting on such short notice, and to care enough to read the book so you could help shape the discussion. Kudos to you!

    1. Thank you Dreaming! You are always so kind in your comments. Books are one of the greatest pleasures in my life, so my hostess duties were far more pleasure than pain.

  13. Amazing post; the book sounds like a fascinating read. I guess we've all received those scam emails at one time or another; I used to wonder who fell for them, as obviously there were some people somewhere who made the scamming worthwhile! It does reflect the kind of world we live in today. P.S. Ooh, Becky will be so thrilled to hear she has a new follower -- I will tell her to go see :)

    1. Hi B&R! Thank you for your kind words. Becky's blog was darling, and I can see the help of an amazing and supportive mother in it! Take care!

  14. Thank you for making the book come alive for me, here in your post. I love Will Ferguson and this book is on my to read list.

    I laughed at your sister's description of heading up the book club. Yep! So cute.

    1. Hi Laeli! Thank you for your kind comment! More of Ferguson's books are on my list, now that I have been introduced to him! Have a good one!

  15. Hello Fundy,
    First I truly hope that your sister is getting better at long last.
    And boy, did that book 419 make an impression on you... and I can understand perfectly!
    Would I have the time to read, it would be next to my bed for the same reasons than yours.

    Many thanks for your great comment on my blog, such sweet words went straight to my heart.
    I have written a book some years ago about Africa and its White & black magic, set against the political background of Mandela taking over the government both in English and in french but haven't managed to get it published...
    As I had another 2 books coming on nicely, it disgusted me enough to give up on writing and go back to fauna photography.
    And spending time in nature is so much more rewarding than being stuck behind a computer...
    But thanks for the suggestion, to me it means you really appreciate my photography!
    Cheers and enjoy your Easter WE, my friend!

    1. Hi Noushka! I do really appreciate your photography! I think it is amazing! Your book on Africa sounds wonderful! I'd buy it in a heartbeat if I could. Just knowing that you wrote it would be enough! There's always e-publishing! My sister Bertie has published two books, and what a ride that has been. Definitely time consuming and full of pitfalls! Easter weekend wishes right back at you!

    2. And Barb is doing well ~ thanks for your good wishes to her!

  16. The festival happens each year and good reads are always available. Life of Pie was one in the past.

    1. I must read "Life of Pi!" Thank you for reminding me, Heidrun!


Thank you for your comments! I appreciate them very much.