Tuesday, September 17, 2013


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 others.

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 would recommend.

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. 

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