419 was the book under discussion at the BPYC book club.
There were several memorable scenes in the novel. Some comic, some
horrific. There was political satire, detective mystery, descriptive
travelogue, and a hint of romance. Almost as if Will Ferguson was trying
his hand at different genres and then stitching them together. This may
explain why some of us liked certain sections of the book more than
A test of fiction is always whether it is believable.
Although there was much debate about whether the characters passed this
test, there was no argument about whether the story was well-researched
and based on fact. The plot is rich with strong detail: buildings close
to the Nigerian airport with signs announcing "this house is not for
sale"; corruption that allows easy access into hotel
rooms; lonely or desperate people whose dreams make them vulnerable;
the pillage of the oil companies and colonial exploitation of Africa.
I read this around the same time as I read Enrique's Journey, and both
books reminded me how fortunate I am to live in Canada, and take things
like running water and a roof over my head for granted. The desperation of some to create a better life for their children, that ends up being exploited to become the root of self-destruction. Good motives, disastrous results.
419 met favourable reviews in the Quill and Quire and National Post. It was winner of the Giller. Additional press post-Giller in outlets like the Huffington Post, and CBC have certainly helped boost sales.
No one seemed to like it from beginning to end. Some liked the beginning and end, others preferred the middle. Overall,
the club seemed to find it a worthwhile read but only a few
We had an Interesting discussion, though. Not just on literary
merit but about which parts appealed to different readers. People who
normally share perspective were diametrically opposed on their interpretations.
Was it the proximity of the full moon?
Differences of opinion arose about the plausibility of events and the
believability of characters. Disagreements over theme. Stances on
morality and political justifications, one hemisphere of the
globe exploiting the other. It kept the conversation lively, even if at times it was hard to get a word in edgewise.
A. told a story about how she was mailed a $2,000 check a few years ago and asked to cash it; for her troubles she could keep $200 but would she please wire $1,800 back? Of course, she didn't fall for it. Called the police, but there was little they could do. Which is probably why vigilante sites like 419eater.com, a site devoted to scam baiters, exist.