Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Biittner's Book Review: 419 by Will Ferguson

Our May book club selection was the 2012 Scotiabank Giller Prize winner "419" by Will Ferguson. This was an excellent read. On the surface this seems like a story about a daughter trying to find answers following her father's death. However, it is much more complex than that. The story shifts back and forth from Calgary to Nigeria (and other parts of West and Northern Africa), and shifts between the perspectives of various characters on both continents. Ferguson crafts some elegant parallels, the two major ones are the rich Oil fields of Nigeria and the big business Oil capital of Canada (Calgary), and two women who have isolated themselves from their kin for very different reasons who both eventually make their way to Nigeria.

It was really interesting to learn more about how the "419" scam works - who hasn't received a spam email message from an individual seeking aid and offering great financial reward? - including the reasons a young man may become a "Yahooboyz" and the contempt that is felt towards the "Mugu".

As a side note: I loved the references to Nollywood; Nollywood films were quite popular in Tanzania when I was last there, and my friends all had their favourite actresses and directors.

The overall tone is very melancholic. It is a bleak story of lies and loss, which seems to offer no happy resolution for any of the characters. That said, I would highly recommend this fantastic read by a great Canadian author.

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