"No one can be lonely who has a book for company." ~ Nelle Reagan

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Review: 419 by Will Ferguson

Author:  Will Ferguson
Published:  2012
Publisher:  Viking (an imprint of Penguin Canada)
Format:  hardcover
Pages:  399 including acknowledgments and notes
Source:  borrowed (but I am going to buy a copy so I can read it again.  It's that good!)



Summary:  "From 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 endurance.

A car tumbles through darkness down a snowy ravine.

A woman without a name walks out of a dust storm in sub-Saharan 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…

Will Ferguson takes readers deep into the labyrinth of lies that is “419,” the world’s most insidious Internet scam.

When Laura Curtis, a lonely editor in a cold northern city, discovers that her father has died because of one such swindle, she sets out to track down—and corner—her father’s killer. It is a dangerous game she’s playing, however, and the stakes are higher than she can ever imagine.

Woven into Laura’s journey is a mysterious woman from the African Sahel with scars etched into her skin and a young man who finds himself caught up in a web of violence and deceit.

And running through it, a dying father’s final words: “You, I love.” (Amazon.ca) 

My thoughts:

From a writer best known for his travel literature and/or humour, Will Ferguson has entered his third foray into literary fiction with his most recent work, 419.  How does a writer known for other genres branch out to fiction?  According to his interview at the Arden Theatre, he uses a bit of humour [a love of travel, an inquisitive mind] and a bit of parental experience and the gap is bridged.  As he stated in an interview with MacLean, "I try to alternate between fiction and non-fiction. I think it uses different parts of your brain."

When I'd heard Will Ferguson had won the Scotiabank Giller Prize for his novel 419, I had to learn more about the book but it took me a year to finally make time to read it.  I picked up a copy after meeting Ferguson at the Arden Theatre in St. Albert in June.  I wish I'd done so sooner.

419 opens with a car crash which may or may not have been a suicide and the ensuing police investigation wherein we meet the family of the deceased, particularly a daughter who is intent on revenge.    419 then "travels" to Nigeria where a nameless pregnant woman leaves her tribe and walks alone across deserts, through villages, before she meets up with a man who will take her to the deeper south.  

The story of the oil industry in Africa is a caustic bi-line that introduces a new character, the man who befriends the nameless woman.  A significant portion of the novel follows Nnamdi, a "mechanic" and secondary driver of a tanker hauling stolen oil.  His story allows you to see a different Africa.  If you thought the oil industry here was bad, take a read at just how horrible it could be in the hands of Ferguson as he portrays a time when the Niger Delta was in an uproar over the oil. 

We also meet Wilson, a 419 scam artist who preys upon people using the internet as a fraudulent means of getting money from unsuspecting individuals.  At first Wilson is on his own but when he has some success and is about to score big, a mafia boss has him brought in to force him to work for him.  

As the stories converge, they each play a role, knowingly and unknowingly in each other's lives and in the outcome of the book.

What some might call disjointed, I found as an interesting sideline as Ferguson brought together four main characters, passing between their stories, and in the end merging them together to a climax that both made me angry and glad.  You have to read it to discover why.  No spoilers here.

419 is a book that is difficult to put down, shocking, eye-opening and could very well be non-fiction if it weren't fiction.  For me it was phenomenal and I would highly recommend it!


The following was written of the winning book, 419, by the jury for the Scotiabank Giller Award: 

"Will Ferguson's 419 points in the direction of something entirely new: the Global Novel. It is a novel emotionally and physically at home in the poverty of Lagos and in the day-to-day of North America. It tells us the ways in which we are now bound together and reminds us of the things that will always keep us apart. It brings us the news of the world far beyond the sad, hungry faces we see on CNN and CBC and far beyond the spreadsheets of our pension plans. Ferguson is a true travel writer, his eye attuned to the last horrible detail. He is also a master at dialogue and suspense. It is tempting to put 419 in some easy genre category, but that would only serve to deny its accomplishment and its genius."

Meet the author:
photo taken by myself at the Arden Theatre
in St. Albert June 14, 2013
Will Ferguson is a travel writer and novelist  and has authored several award-winning memoirs, including Beyond BelfastHitching Rides with Buddha, and the humorous anecdotal collection Canadian Pie. His novels include Spanish Fly, Happiness™, and 419. Will has been nominated for both an IMPAC Dublin Award and a Commonwealth Writers Prize and is a three-time winner of the Leacock Medal.  Published in more than 20 languages around the world, one might say even his written works are well traveled.  He won the Scotiabank Giller Prize for best fiction (419) by a Canadian author in 2012.


  1. A very good review, not normally something I would read I don't think but really intrigued now.

    Lainy http://www.alwaysreading.net

    1. If you like a little mystery, justice/revenge, and to visit other lands (even if only through a book), I believe you would really enjoy it. There's a lot going on in this novel, individual stories which merge to make the whole so it takes a little reading to see where the author is headed but once you get there it's a wow!


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