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19 of the Best Books of 2021

review book 419

A bookworm is happiest when they’re surrounded by books — both old and new. Undoubtedly, 2021 was a great year for both fiction and nonfiction, with bestsellers like Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters and Second Place by Rachel Cusk. Whether you read memoirs or young-adult (YA) novels, 2021 was a fantastic year for book lovers. While we can’t squeeze in all of our favorites from 2021, we’ve rounded up a stellar sampling of must-reads. Here’s some of the year’s best books. 

“Crying in H Mart: A Memoir” by Michelle Zauner

review book 419

In her profound memoir Crying in H Mart , Michelle Zauner shares an unflinching view of growing up as a Korean American person — all while reflecting on losing her mother to terminal cancer. Author Dani Shapiro notes that the Japanese Breakfast musician “has created a gripping, sensuous portrait of an indelible mother-daughter bond that hits all the notes: love, friction, loyalty, grief.”

“The Prophets” by Robert Jones, Jr.

review book 419

In Robert Jones, Jr.’s lyrical debut novel, The Prophets , Isaiah and Samuel are two enslaved young men who find refuge in each other — and their love becomes both sustaining and heroic in the face of a vicious world. Entertainment Weekly writes that “While The Prophets’ dreamy realism recalls the work of Toni Morrison… Its penetrating focus on social dynamics stands out more singularly.” Now that’s a compliment.

“The Hill We Climb” by Amanda Gorman

review book 419

At President Joe Biden’s inauguration, Amanda Gorman read her electrifying poem, “ The Hill We Climb .” Since then, it has been praised for its call for unity and healing. Vogue captures the feeling of reading the poem well, calling it “deeply rousing and uplifting.” 

“Beautiful World, Where Are You” by Sally Rooney

review book 419

New York Times bestselling author Sally Rooney has returned with a sharp, romantic drama, Beautiful World, Where Are You . Two separate relationships are in chaos, threatening to ruin friendships. Vogue  declares that the author has “invented a sensibility entirely of her own: Sunny and sharp.” 

“Somebody’s Daughter: A Memoir” by Ashley C. Ford

review book 419

Ashley C. Ford’s coming-of-age memoir, Somebody’s Daughter , centers on her childhood. Ford, a Black girl who grew up poor in Indiana, recounts how her family was fragmented by her father’s incarceration. With rich, unflinching writing, Ford has penned a debut for the ages. The memoir’s publisher perhaps puts the core of the book best, noting that Ford “embarks on a powerful journey to find the threads between who she is and what she was born into, and the complicated familial love that often binds them.” 

“Last Night at the Telegraph Club” by Malinda Lo

review book 419

Everyone remembers their first all-consuming love — and for Lily Hu, the teenage protagonist of Malinda Lo’s queer YA novel, that love is Kathleen Miller. Set in the 1950s in San Francisco,  Last Night at the Telegraph Club  is not just one of the year’s best, but one of Lo’s best. O: The Oprah Magazine notes that the novel is “proof of Lo’s skill at creating darkly romantic tales of love in the face of danger.”

“¡Hola Papi!” by John Paul Brammer

review book 419

In his memoir, ¡H ola Papi!: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons , advice columnist John Paul Brammer delves into his experiences growing up as a queer, biracial person. The  Los Angeles Times  writes that “Brammer’s writing is incredibly funny, kind, and gracious to his readers, and deeply vulnerable in a way that makes it feel as if he’s talking to only you” — and we couldn’t agree more. 

“Honey Girl” by Morgan Rogers

review book 419

In Morgan Rogers’ novel Honey Girl , Grace Porter is an overachiever — and certainly not the type of person to marry a stranger in Las Vegas. Or, at least, she didn’t think she was that type of person. As Grace navigates the messiness of adulthood, Rogers takes us on a journey that’s both heartfelt and unflinching, illustrating that love is all about risks — even when it comes to loving ourselves. 

“Aftershocks: A Memoir” by Nadia Owusu

review book 419

Nadia Owusu’s memoir, Aftershocks , reflects on her experience of being abandoned by her parents at a young age. Entertainment Weekly notes that “Owusu dispatches all of this heartache with blistering honesty but does so with prose light enough that it never feels too much to bear.”

“Klara and the Sun” by Kazuo Ishiguro

review book 419

What if an artificial intelligence (AI) assistant had feelings? In Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest novel,  Klara and the Sun , Klara is an Artificial Friend who wonders if friendship is possible. The Financial Times called the Never Let Me Go author’s latest “a deft dystopian fable about the innocence of a robot that asks big questions about existence.”

“100 Boyfriends” by Brontez Purnell

review book 419

Brontez Purnell’s romantic, intoxicating book, 100 Boyfriends , is a look at the romantic lives of queer men who are striving to find out not just where they belong, but where they can shine. Author Bryan Washington praised the collection, writing that “Each story in 100 Boyfriends is a minor eclipse: stunning in scope, technically blinding, and entirely miraculous.”

“One Last Stop” by Casey McQuiston

review book 419

In Casey McQuiston’s big-hearted romance novel, One Last Stop , August meets Jane on a New York City subway — but she doesn’t realize just how fateful their chance encounter is at first. New York Magazine called the novel “an earnest reminder that home — whether that means a time, a place, or a person — is worth fighting for,” and we wouldn’t expect anything less from the  Red, White & Royal Blue author. 

“Afterparties: Stories” by Anthony Veasna So

review book 419

In Afterparties , Anthony Veasna So weaves together tenderhearted stories about the lives of several Cambodian American characters. Although the stories vary quite a bit in terms of content, author George Saunders writes that they are all “powered by So’s skill with the telling detail,” and are much like “…beams of wry, affectionate light, falling from different directions on a complicated, struggling, beloved American community.”

“Malibu Rising” by Taylor Jenkins Reid

review book 419

In Taylor Jenkins Reid’s novel Malibu Rising , readers meet four famous siblings as they throw their annual end-of-summer party in Malibu. However, over the course of 24 hours, family drama ensues. The Washington Post calls this read “a fast-paced, engaging novel that smoothly transports readers.”

“Let Me Tell You What I Mean” by Joan Didion

review book 419

Between 1968 and 2000, award-winning journalist and essayist Joan Didion wrote 12 pieces about a variety of well-known figures, ranging from Ernest Hemingway and Nancy Reagan to Martha Stewart. Now, these works have been gathered in the essay collection Let Me Tell You What I Mean . Bret Easton Ellis writes that Didion’s “prose remains peerless,” so, if you’re a fan of the iconic writer, this is a must-read. 

“Intimacies” by Katie Kitamura

review book 419

Intimacies is Katie Kitamura’s fourth novel, following 2017’s critically acclaimed A Separation . In it, an interpreter for the International Court at the Hague gets drawn into a political scandal after agreeing to translate for a former world leader and potential criminal. The novel is a fascinating investigation into the instability of language and how it influences identity. Dana Spiotta describes Intimacies as “a haunting, precise, and morally astute novel that reads like a psychological thriller.”

“Detransition, Baby” by Torrey Peters

review book 419

In Detransition, Baby , Torrey Peters tells a witty and nuanced story about partnership, parenthood and identity. About the novel, Ginny Hogan from the New York Times states “[Detransition, Baby upends] our traditional, gendered notions of what parenthood can look like.”

“Second Place” by Rachel Cusk

review book 419

In Rachel Cusk’s novel Second Place , a follow up to her brilliant Outline trilogy, a woman invites an artist she admires to live in her remote guesthouse for the summer. As the stay unfolds, a series of unexpected events spurs revelations about womanhood, marriage and security. About Second Place , Jenny Singer from Glamour writes “there is mayhem; surprising sweetness and brilliant observations tumble from every page.”

“Sellout: The Major-Label Feeding Frenzy That Swept Punk, Emo, and Hardcore ” by Dan Ozzi

review book 419

In Sellout: The Major-Label Feeding Frenzy That Swept Punk, Emo, and Hardcore , rock critic Dan Ozzi traces the stories of eleven separate bands that transitioned from the indie scene to achieve mainstream success in the ‘90s. Including interviews and anecdotes from bands like Green Day, Jimmy Eat World and Blink-182, this is a must-read for any music lover.


review book 419


About NutraEase

NutraEase is a cookware company that takes innovative culinary concepts developed in America and pairs them with Italian craftsmanship and design. The company’s offerings include cookware with distinctive features like detachable handles. NutraEase products are made with a combination of 316-type titanium stainless steel, aluminum and aluminum alloy.

Overall Satisfaction Rating

Bottom Line

NutraEase is based in Wisconsin, but its cookware is made in Italy and is available only through authorized distributors. Its products have features like removable handles and stack cooking options. It also offers tableware.

Top NutraEase Reviews

For more information about reviews on ConsumerAffairs.com please visit our FAQ .

I was looking for something that cooks up pretty quick, and yet, on the other hand, nourishing and good for us. The NutraEase guy came to my house and talked to me. He was very ni...

When the gentleman came out to the house and he cooked for us using the cookware, I really liked what I saw. It was very good. It still washes very easy. ... I haven’t used all th...

What is NutraEase?

NutraEase is a modern cookware company based in Wisconsin. It also sells tableware and cutlery, providing a variety of products to help keep your kitchen stocked.

The Medium and Large sets also come with your choice of either two or five NutraEase premium items. These choices include:

How does NutraEase work?

NutraEase uses 316-type titanium stainless steel. This material, paired with inner layers of aluminum and aluminum alloy, are meant to provide balanced heat distribution and durability. The products are also built to work with every type of cooking surface.

One defining feature of NutraEase cookware is its removable handles. Users can interchange long and side handles based on their preference. Removable handles make storage easier, too.

NutraEase also offers stackable cooking options so you can cook more using less space.

NutraEase prices

NutraEase doesn’t indicate pricing on its website, and its products aren’t available in stores. Instead, NutraEase is sold through a network of distributors. These distributors can demonstrate the cookware and provide cost info. To find a distributor, you can fill out a contact form on the NutraEase website.

Most NutraEase purchases come with a 50-year limited warranty, promising products free of material and workmanship defects. Electrical components come with a one-year warranty.

NutraEase FAQ

Is nutraease worth it.

NutraEase has several benefits for at-home cooks who want quality products. The removable handles and stackable cooking options make it appealing to many. That said, NutraEase doesn’t make itself easy to find; you can only buy it through a distributor, and you can only find a distributor through the website.

If you’re willing to jump through these hoops, it does seem you’ll find quality products — but there’s no denying that there are other quality brands available in stores and with transparent pricing.

NutraEase Reviews

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The purchase process with NutraEase wasn't difficult but I would prefer that the product was shipped directly to me for safety. It was ordered through the distributor and he said they get all the products and then, they deliver it to all the customers who purchased. The cookware is a healthier method of cooking but the quality is not as good as I expected. I’ve had it for abut two months and depending on what I cook, the cleanup is easy. I saw how the cleanup was in some of the things that were cooked during the show but after I used it, it wasn’t exactly the same for me.

I went to visit my friend, and I saw her cooking with NutraEase. What got my attention is the thing on top. I always have issues when I boil rice, and all my gas gets messed up with all the steamed water. I don't like cleaning my gas cooker every now and then. When she was cooking, I saw the way the steam was coming out, and that was what made me fall in love with NutraEase. I made my purchase, and the rep I worked with was right on point. Anytime I called her, she was always there to attend to me. So, ordering was smooth and easy.

When I purchased the product, I started using it right away. I like that it does not stick. Whatever I cook does not stick to the pan. I also like the electric skillet. It is easy to clean. The quality is really top-notch. I have two kids that are picky eaters. I try as much as possible to steam vegetables for them. So, I like the steam. I like the fact that I can cook the meat, and also cook what I want to steam it to be able to get them to eat. I already organized a cookout. I can't wait to tell my friends about it, and also for them to experience it and see.

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I like how my NutraEase keeps the nutrients in the food, and also the lid of it has a little valve that kind of opens and closes and clicks when it's ready. It makes it easy to put it on the pan and then pull it on. Cleaning it has been the hardest part to get used to. I don't feel like it cleans as easy as my other pots and pans, but it's just different. Sometimes, it's almost like you can see where the noodles were on the bottom. There's like a stainless steel cleaner that you can polish it with afterwards. So, that's an extra step in doing the dishes, or we just don‘t worry about it.

The cookware is really expensive, but I do feel like it's been really nice. It's the concept that we'll never have to buy pots and pan again that makes it worth it when you stretch it out over time. I am happy with it. Last night, I did broccoli in the steamer basket. I put the pot in the bottom and then the steamer basket, and then I put the lid on. Then I waited for it to click and then I took the lid off and it was done. I don’t overcook it where it cooks the nutrients out. Then I did the electric skillet with chicken. I didn't put any oil in it. I just put chicken breasts and seasoning on it, and I put the lid on and it was done in five minutes. It was cooked perfectly.

We liked that the pots are durable and we wouldn't have to buy pots ever again. I recently got the NutraEase set and I like the skillet that has the oil already in there. The only one I used mostly every morning is for eggs and it's supposed to be greaseless, but I don't like that it burns easily if I don't use grease. On the other hand, NutraEase is great for when you're stepping away. It has a little temperature thing that whistles and the coolest part of the whole thing is not having to stand there and watch over the pot.

So far, I've used my NutraEase cookware several times and I am amazed at how easy it is to clean. I've left it on the burner. I've either had the burner too hot or I left it on too long, and it's gotten a little burn in it, and it just comes right off. I'm really thrilled about that. I cooked chicken in it and it turned out very nice, so I'm very pleased with it.

NutraEase's sales rep was a very good salesman. He didn't spend too much time on the book turning the pages. The product was there and we could see what we wanted to see from it. My girls wondered if he had taken advantage of me because it cost so much. I don't think he did because I had these demonstrations before and bought the products and been very happy with them. I just do want a cookbook. He has sent one and it's supposed to be mailed here, but I don't know when I'll get it.

NutraEase does what it’s supposed to do. It cooks quickly too. We’re overly satisfied. It is relatively expensive, but for the quality of what you’re getting, it is fair.

The cookware is worth the cost. But there could be better training for the people presenting the cookware. The person who presented NutraEase to us made it sound like we didn't need oil or butter for any of the pans including the ones on the stove. That's not true. Food sticks if you cook on the stove. I don't know if he was just saying that the electric skillet was the only one that I didn't need oil or butter for but he didn't make that clear when he was presenting it.

Also, the electric skillet came with a care and instruction manual but nowhere in the manual does it say how the timer works. So I had to try to figure that out. The lids and regulators that let me know when steam hits it get going but I can't figure out the timer. It would be easier to be able to set it for the time that comes in the recipe book instead of having to turn around and use another timer for that. I got a cookbook for the electric skillet and another for the set. But I wanted to cook something from the regular cookbook in my electric skillet. NutraEase could give instructions on how to convert that recipe to cook on the electric skillet or at least give the temperature the skillet would need to be on for the recipe.

I’m gonna like it very much. The skillets and how the cookware retained all the nutrients in the food really stood out for me. Also, the taste of the food. The shipping went smoothly. I had the cookware in about two weeks or less.

I bought a big roaster from NutraEase that comes with a little grill underneath. However, it's too expensive and it's hard to clean. There are some stains that I cannot take care of. I have done everything they say. I use warm, soapy water and a paper towel. I don't use anything that scratches anything. Also, I keep going to the internet to find recipes. I didn’t have a guideline as to how to cook ribs or chicken. The lady sent me a book but it's for other cookware. There was nothing on the roaster.

Hello Rosa,

Thank you for taking the time to submit your review. I will be more than happy to assist with tips on how to clean your product. You may also visit http://yummyfood.tv/recipes/ for quick and easy recipes available for your Nutraease items.

Please feel free to email me at [email protected] for any further questions or concerns.

Customer Care Department

My wife uses the cookware and it's super, super good. Everything has been done better than any other stainless cookware. It is warm after cooking. All the food are much delicious than any other stainless steel cooking utensils. The problem is the prices are higher than any other competitive stuff. It's really expensive to normal people. Also, they did the quality of the square type of fry pan less than other stuff.

NutraEase Company Information


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Goodreads Celebrates Women's History Month

Will Ferguson

393 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2012

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Would you die for your child? This is the only question a parent needs to answer; everything else flows from this. In the kiln-baked emptiness of thorn-bush deserts. In mangrove swamps and alpine woods. In city streets and snowfalls. It is the only question that needs answering. The boy's father, knee deep in warm mud, was pulling hard on fishing nets that were splashing with life. Mist on greens waters. Sunlight on tidal pools.

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Hello , I am Barr. Richard Spencer residing in Accra-Ghana,a personal attorney to late Mr.Robert ,a nationality of your country who died in tragic motor accident by running into a stationery Trailer without warning sign on December 26 , 2006. I have contacted you to assist in repatriating his fund valued at USD$45,200,000.00 left behind by my late client before it gets confiscated or declared unserviceable by the Security Finance Firm where this huge amount were deposited. Reply to my private email address for more details: [email protected] Regards, Barr.Richard Spencer. --------------------------------------------------------------------- Please I will advise you to create a new email address at YAHOO,HOTMAIL OR GMAIL and contact me back because this site is rejecting the the full details of what I wanted to send you.
"Your father signed a document granting power of attorney to the law office of Bello & Usman in Lagos." "So why aren't you contacting them?" asked Warren. "Because they don't exist," said Laura. "Jesus Christ, Warren, what part of this don't you understand?" "Language," said their mother, roused from her indifference. "What if someone took them up on their offer?" Laura asked. "Flew to Lagos and confronted them face to face?" Detective Saul looked at her. "People have tried that. They've gone over there and started poking about in the city's underbelly. "And?" "Like I said, they usually end up floating in Lagos Lagoon." "But what if - what if you made them come to you, pretended to be an investor, say? Turned the tables." "That's a dangerous game. You'd be on their turf." "But couldn't you meet them on neutral ground? An embassy or something." "Odds are, even if you made it out alive, you wouldn't get your money back," said Rhodes. "What if," Laura said, "it wasn't about the money?" [p.139]
One of the boys was wavering on his feet. His eyes were milky and unfocused. It reminded Nnamdi of the glassy gaze of the Egbesu boys, but without the bravado or the gin. "The hardest part is protecting your line from other boys. We have to stand guard twenty-four hours. Take turns, work it in shifts. But dey fumes is always leaking, from the hose or from the valve. So you inhale a lot of it. Gives you headaches." Nnamdi looked at his sickly friends, grown wan and thin. "You have to stop," he said. "The gas will make you ill. It will poison you." "It already has, Nnamdi." And then, in Ijaw: "It was our bad fortune, wasn't it, Nnamdi? To sit on top of wealth that others wanted. Why do you think the gods punished us like that? Cursed us with oil. Why?" "I don't know." "Do you suppose the oil is tainted by the souls of the Igbo and others that we captured? Do you suppose it's the blood of those, come back to haunt us?" "If that was the case, my friend, the oil would make the oyibos [white men] ill as well." "I think it has, Nnamdi." [pp.289-290]
What was Nigeria? It was a net, loosely thrown, a name on a map, one created by the British to paper over the gaping cracks in the joinery. A conjurer's trick, where the many became one, a sleight of hand, like the tired magic of old men making coins disappear. "There is no Nigeria." This was the lesson [Amina's] uncle had wished to impart. "There is Fulani and Hausa, Igbo and Tiv, Efik and Kanuri, Gwari and Yoruba. But Nigeria? That is on the pail we carry these in." But she knew better. She knew that the naming of a place helped bring it into existence. The naming of a location - or a person, a child - was a way of claiming them. Until you named something, it wasn't fully real. The trick to staying invisible, then, was to remain nameless. Without a name, you couldn't be pinned in place, couldn't be cornered or captured. [p.82]

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"You seem to know an awful lot about Nigeria," said Warren. "I do." Laura looked at the detective. "You've been there, haven't you?" "I have." "Lagos?" He nodded. "What was it like?" "It was like looking into the future." "That bad?" He nodded.

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The Canadian Book Review

419 by Will Ferguson


Winner of the 2012 Scotiabank Giller Prize

A  Globe and Mail  Top 100 Book ~ 2012

I’ve been aware of Will Ferguson for many years but I’ve never read his work. He’s won several Leacock Medals and authored two well-received humorous novels, Happiness TM and Spanish Fly . But, when his novel 419 was shortlisted for the Giller Prize, I was surprised that he had written a dramatic novel, let alone a thriller. It didn’t seem to fit with what I knew of his style and subjects. Ferguson’s Giller-Prize winning novel tells the story of a daughter, Laura, dealing with the death of her father after he falls for a 419 scam. (A 419 scam is something along the line of one of those classic emails from the Prince of Nigeria saying you won the lottery, etc. Everyone has gotten dozens of these; some lucky souls, like me, get them at work every day). I bought this novel because I collect Giller winners, and I decided to read it because of an interesting extended interview Ferguson did with Shelagh Rogers about 419 . The book sounded fascinating and exciting. An inside look at the Nigerian underbelly and those 419ers trying to bilk trusting/greedy Westerners out of their cash. I really wanted to like this book. For the most part though, it was a something of a letdown.

I’d like to start with the positives though, because no book is without some kind of enjoyment. There are two very strong points in this novel: Ferguson’s descriptions of Nigeria and his portrayal of the email exchanges between Laura’s father and the scammer. At his heart, Will Ferguson is a travel writer. These talents really shined when he was describing the countryside of Nigeria and the urban decay of Lagos Island. These chapters hit all five senses and capture both the beauty and danger of this part of the world. The landscape passages were punctuated with examples of how the Nigerian people survive in this environment. To my second point, the actual 419 scam itself was gripping. As you read the emails exchanged between Henry Curtis and Winston, in his many guises, your stomach just cringes. It’s that classic dramatic irony you learn in Intro to Lit…you know something bad is going down but the poor rube in the story has no clue. This was the most enjoyable part of the book for me. Unfortunately, past about page 75 the story has moved on from the actual scam that was the catalyst for the primary plot.

Now for the fairly large problems that cost 419 a couple stars on Goodreads. There are too many unnecessarily detailed plot lines, the vast majority of characters are very one-dimensional and undeveloped, and the dénouement is frustratingly bad. I’m only going to get into the plot line problem; undeveloped characters are a pretty straightforward problem and I don’t want to spoil the ending.

Ferguson has several independent story lines going throughout the novel: Laura’s discovery and investigation of her father’s misfortune, the scammer Winston’s rise in the Nigerian criminal underworld, Amina’s story – a pregnant Muslim woman roaming the Nigerian countryside for some unexplained reason, and Nnamdi’s – a village boy who finds success in the oil patch and then falls unwillingly into the grip of Nigerian organized crime. The four plots eventually come together. Amina’s story comes out of nowhere and is frustratingly slow. Had this storyline came earlier, I likely wouldn’t have finished the novel. Nnamdi’s story is more gripping and he is the most developed character in book. My big problem is that the interaction between Amina, Nnamdi and the central character Laura is, while very important, rather miniscule. I felt like their story could have been told in a 5 page digression rather than taking almost 60% of the book.

This is a relatively heavy book, 400 pages with medium sized print. After finishing it and mentally marinating in it for a few days, I think I have my issue with 419 figured out. Will Ferguson took a great concept for a short story and inflated it into a novel. The title, the description on the back, and all the promo around the time the book was released and at the Giller ceremony led me to believe this was a story about a man being duped by financial predators. 419ing only took up maybe a third of the book. This is part story of an internet scam, part story of life in Nigeria. I can understand Ferguson’s motivation in telling the story this way; I could see his desire to give an accurate description of life in Nigeria beyond the 419ers and how a life of crime seems somewhat inevitable for the country’s down trodden. But instead we got a bit of a mish mash and a frustrated reader saying “get on with it.” I’ve read a few other titles from the Giller shortlist that 419 beat and I’m surprised this took the title. 419 by Will Ferguson was one of the few novels I’ve read in the last year or two that has been a disappointment.

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Quill and Quire

Canada's magazine of book news and reviews.

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by Will Ferguson

Over the last decade, Will Ferguson has made the seemingly effortless transition from successful humorist and travel writer to successful comic novelist. Generica , his 2001 satire of the self-help industry, was a surprise hit at home and in the U.K. (the U.K. title, Happiness™ , has since been applied to domestic reprints). Spanish Fly (2007), his picaresque novel of Dust Bowl–era con men, impressed many readers and critics with its rich characterizations and plot twists. Even Ferguson’s most recent travelogue, 2011’s Beyond Belfast , largely avoided the zingers and easy cultural dislocations that defined much of his earlier work.

Perhaps feeling constrained by even the comic novel’s limitations, Ferguson has entered the ranks of literary novelists with 419 , a story that follows a Canadian editor from her comfortable life in Calgary to neo-liberalism’s lawless frontiers in the oil- and blood-drenched streets and backwaters of Nigeria.

The novel begins with a series of fragmented, almost impressionistic scenes that unfortunately display all the hallmarks of the Serious Canadian Novel: unnamed characters, landscape descriptions, italicized passages, and a high tone notable (somewhat ironically, in this instance) for its utter humourlessness. There are also ponderous rhetorical questions, including the one that begins the novel: “ Would you die for your child? This is the only question a parent needs to answer: everything else flows from this. It is the only question that needs answering.”

Four storylines emerge from the opening section, each connected – though not always directly – to the car-crash death of Henry Curtis, a retired Calgary school teacher. Given the nature of Henry’s uneventful, button-down life, the police do not initially suspect foul play, in spite of seeming incongruities at the accident scene, including a mysterious second set of tire tracks.

More troubling clues come to light. Henry’s shared bank accounts have all been recently emptied, the family house remortgaged, and their credit cards maxed out – all without the knowledge of Henry’s  surviving wife. Henry’s death is soon ruled a suicide, and when the police confiscate his hard drive they find a trail of emails charting Henry’s hellish descent into the depths of a Nigerian Internet scam that left him penniless. Henry’s wife and two grown children are devastated, but only his daughter, Laura, a reclusive copy editor, vows to take action and track down the men who destroyed her father.

Woven into the investigation and revenge narrative are the stories of three young Nigerians: Winston Balogun, the educated but futureless email scammer responsible for the ruin of Laura’s father; Nnamdi, a fisherman’s son co-opted into the petroleum black market after his village ecosystem is destroyed by wanton oil drilling; and Amina, a pregnant waif fleeing her extended family of cattle herders in the north for the promise of a new life in the southern cities.

The novel comes to life when Ferguson dispenses with jarring short scenes and fully immerses readers in the intersecting stories that propel the narrative toward a series of dramatic collisions and reconciliations. Ferguson’s eye for local detail and power dynamics animates an early scene in which Laura, disembarking in Lagos for the last stages of her journey to confront Winston, is questioned by a suspicious security official in the airport. The scene achieves a charged, claustrophobic feeling of imminent disaster, which is all the more effective for Ferguson’s skilful evasion of any overt confrontation.

Even better are the scenes that take readers into the surreal criminal underworld of Nigeria’s 419 Internet scams (named for the section of the Nigerian criminal code dealing with obtaining funds illegally). Readers follow Winston’s passage from successful free agent to reluctant cog in the vast, interconnected schemes of Ironsi-Egobia, a sociopathic criminal mastermind and one of the most compelling villains in recent fiction. 

The novel is further enlivened by sharp dialogue and imagery. Looking out from her apartment window at Calgary’s crane-crowned winter skyline, Laura sees “a city that was constantly erasing and rewriting itself. A cold city, exhaling steam.” Later, Nnamdi remembers the day the men from the oil company suddenly emerged from the dense mangrove thickets to stake the villagers’ ancestral land: “More and more men boiled out of the [jungle] gap like ants.”

But too often, especially in the novel’s first half, the prose reveals a talented author working against the instincts and storytelling gifts that served him so well in his other works. Hopefully Ferguson finds equally compelling material to work with in his next novel, be it comic or otherwise, and this time trusts his gut a little more.

Correction: An earlier version of this review mistakenly identified “419” as the area code used by the Internet scammers in the novel. Q&Q regrets the error.

Reviewer: James Grainger

Publisher: Viking Canada

Page Count: 320 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 978-0-67006-471-7

Released: April

Issue Date: 2012-4

Categories: Fiction: Novels


review book 419


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Book Review, 419 by Will Ferguson

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review book 419

419 By Will Ferguson Viking 397 pp; $32

Book Review, 419 by Will Ferguson Back to video

There’s a brilliant scene in humourist Will Ferguson’s novel Generica — later republished as Happiness — in which the anti-hero, a beaten and cynical self-help editor, is sitting naked at his home computer, having lost the only copy of his prized manuscript and needing to submit something to his boss the next morning. The naked editor brews himself a pot of strong coffee and bangs out an approximation of a self-help book, cobbling together platitudes and witticisms from various sources, over the course of a single night.

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For the first 60 pages of 419 , Ferguson’s grim departure from the comedy that built his reputation, the author comes across like a real-world version of his protagonist. Having read maybe the first half-dozen chapters of the last 20 Giller winners, he has faked a shallow and naive reconstruction of Canadian lyrical typicality, piecing it together from spare parts. Speaking in sentence fragments about lost souls yearning their way listlessly through a family tragedy, he teases his fan base with phrases as unoriginal as “A vein of lightning on the far side of the sky,” or unencumbered by meaning as “Heat and thirst and sand.” Ferguson’s new style borrows the elliptical sentences made famous by Camilla Gibb and Lisa Moore (who both give 419 loving blurbs on its dust jacket), but 419 lacks the accountability that keeps the best work of those authors away from the self-erasing circularity of lines such as “It is almost a question, the way he says it. Almost, but not quite,” which Ferguson offers up like it means something, with none of the irony you’d expect from a master deflater of pretensions. 419 is set in Calgary and Lagos and concerned with the so-called 419 scams, updates of the Spanish Prisoner trick that appear as those Nigerian phishing emails that sprinkle junk email folders. Like both of Will Ferguson’s earlier novels, Generica and Spanish Fly , 419 tells the story of a fraud. Unlike those two jewels, among the best novels — comic or otherwise — Canada has produced in the past 15 years, the author has made the choice to focus as much on the victims as the perpetrators. The victim here is a retired schoolteacher who trusted the scammers, lost everything and committed suicide. The hero is his daughter, Laura, a dead-eyed publishing employee every bit as bland and uninteresting as Generica ’s editor, except drawn here by Ferguson with none of the satirical bite of his past works. Laura is all nude earnestness, inner turmoil and stimulus response. She exists as a reactor to external events. Ancillary to her own life story, she is an uncharacter. More interesting are the men on the other end of the emails, the insiders who work the fraud machine and provide Ferguson the opportunity to show off his research. He gets deep into their slang and the politics of their country. In the Nigerian scenes, 419 is unsettling and keen of ear. Ferguson’s novels have always run on plot, so when he trusts his story to characters with things to do and say, the book starts to build.

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A minor character named Nnamdi is given an incredible amount of backstory, and this mythic bit of biography is the most exciting part of the book. Almost 100 pages long, we see the whole history of the Niger Delta play out through Nnamdi, with con after con laid on the land by slave traders, Shell Oil men, rampaging generals and corrupt officials. It’s here that Ferguson finally gets his brain and tongue working in the same direction, as the various linguistic forces at play in the young man’s story bounce against each other, working in everything from bawdy slang to petrol politics. We see how con and myth can intersect, how a fairy tale is just a scam written to the tune of a more trusting reality. And when Nnamdi’s story is paused for the return of Laura’s, some of that energy carries forward.

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The story’s momentum demands that victim and perpetrator meet. When Laura herself figures this out, she begins to plan her own con. Here, Ferguson finally finds a way to handle her. Of course, this plot point demands she become a totally different person. There is no credible explanation for Laura’s sudden switch from mealy mouthed wallflower to the adrenaline-fuelled risk-taker of the final chapters. When Laura shows up in Lagos ready for deceit, you know that Ferguson is throwing the reality of her earlier depiction under the bus. You just don’t care, because old Laura was far less than new Laura, and the novel needs her replaced in order to tell its story. You allow him to fall back on the more liberal credibility limits of the “comic novel,” because that’s where his richest bag of tricks lies.

So what to make of 419 ? Surely, talented authors should stretch their bounds. Ferguson can do many things, from travel writing to joke-telling to satire. What he can’t do is present believable earnestness. As an artist, 419 plays to all of his faults, and few of his talents. He has attempted to test himself by writing an international tragedy in the vein of Michael Ondaatje, but has imported many more of Ondaatje’s excesses than achievements.

• Jacob McArthur Mooney’s second collection of poems, Folk, came out last year.

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Leaves & Pages

Life in the country. botany and books., review: 419 by will ferguson.

November 2, 2012 by leavesandpages

review book 419

M y rating: 8/10 . Quite a lot better than I had anticipated. Ferguson’s last few efforts have left me mildly disappointed, but this new novel encouragingly shows that he is still growing as a writer. I haven’t yet read any of the other Giller Prize nominees, but 419 ‘s win a few nights ago no longer seems so far-fetched. This is a well-written and ambitiously plotted novel, and the writer exceeded my personal expectations this time around. I didn’t love this book, but I did like it – very much. Though I do have more than a few critiques, some of which I’ll address below.

I like being pleasantly surprised, and this book did just that. I’d read quite a few reviews, and I’d heard that it was nominated for the Giller, but I wasn’t particularly eager to delve in, as I’d earlier found Will Ferguson’s last book, Canadian Pie , disappointing. It felt rather repetitive, with some of what seemed like reworked material from earlier books, though some bits were excellent entertainment, as always.

But the distinctive cover of 419  caught my eye on the “New Books” display as I was heading out of the library on Tuesday evening, so I impulsively stopped and added it to my pile. When I got to car, I heard the announcement on CBC that Ferguson had indeed just won the $50,000 Giller for 419 , and I mentally shuffled it to the top of my to-read pile, and started it that same night.

I found the narrative initially confusing, as the author has a number of different storylines on the go from page one, but it soon started to jell, though I didn’t ever shake the feeling that I occasionally had too many windows open on my mental computer screen.

The first lines, the literal importance of which become clear later on, are suitably foreboding and mysterious:

Would you die for your child? This is the only question a parent needs to answer; everything else flows from this. In the kiln-baked emptiness of thorn-bush deserts. In mangrove swamps and alpine woods. In city streets and snowfalls. It is the only question that needs answering…

And we are suddenly at a car accident scene in a snowy Canadian city. Then in a sweltering African airport. In a mangrove swamp with a fisherman and his son. Back to Canada as a family learns of their father’s sudden death. Africa. Canada. Africa. Canada. What’s the connection here?

Longer stretches of narrative are interspersed with mysterious vignettes, as the stage is set for the characters’ and events’ inevitable connections and intertwinings, and separate strands start to stand out.

The plot is driven by the ubiquitous presence of the infamous Nigerian internet scam, the titular “419”, so named for the number of the article of the Nigerian Criminal Code dealing with fraud, which turns out to be a key – but not the only – plot element.

419  is a total departure from Ferguson’s usual shtick of out-and-out parody, folksy anecdotes, and very Canadian self-mockery, but there are still abundant traces of the “old” Ferguson throughout. Though the subject matter is often starkly tragic, there are laugh-out-loud moments of rather twisted humour, as here on an African road ferrying a tanker trunk filled with stolen fuel:

Nnamdi was gripping the wheel, eyes on the road, barely blinking, barely breathing. His first time driving. “Speed up,” said Joe. “A baby crawls faster.” Nnamdi swallowed down his nervousness, pushed a little harder on the accelerator. “And don’t swerve for goats like that,” Joe said. “Go through them. It’s the only way. We can hose off the grill later…”

All in all, a blackly comedic suspense novel, but not to be taken too seriously, Giller Prize or not.

The reader absolutely must suspend personal disbelief, and here I give away a bit of a plot spoiler. (Though not more so than any of the other reviews I’ve read.)

What is the likelihood of a modern, middle class, apparently well-educated family being so totally unaware of the sophisticated nature of internet fraud? I could buy into the innocence of the father – sort of – because obviously people do fall for these scams or they could not continue to proliferate, and I know how trusting certain individuals can be, but the naïveté of the adult children, one an apparently financially savvy businessman, tests the reader’s credulity a little too far. The revenge element, the reverse fraud, the involvement of the now highly pregnant Saharan girl – these plot twists, and numerous others, had me shaking my head as the story reached its conclusion.

Viewed as a semi-farcical novel, the flaws of logic smooth out and the “hang on a minute” moments are much more forgivable, but I didn’t ever get the feeling that this was the Big Important Serious Novel that some mainstream reviewers have made it out to be. Sure, there are some serious elements, and those lend poignancy to the tale, but to me it seems just another diversionary read, to be consumed with a certain gusto and set back on the shelf among all of the other well-wrought entertainments of the semi-serious sort.

With this in mind, recommended.

Good job, Mr. Ferguson, and congratulations on your prize.

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Posted in 2010s , Canadian Book Challenge #6 , Contemporary Fiction , Ferguson, Will , Read in 2012 | Tagged Canadian , Canadian Book Challenge 6 , Contemporary Fiction | 4 Comments

4 Responses

[…] Will Ferguson in the literary spotlight these days, due to his Booker Prize win for 419: A Novel  just a week ago, I felt the urge to dig through the bookshelves and re-read the my first ever […]

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Nice thorough review of a book and author that is new to me. Thanks!

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You’re very welcome. Thank you for visiting the blog. 🙂

[…] “Viewed as a semi-farcical novel, the flaws of logic smooth out and the “hang on a minute” moments are much more forgivable, but I didn’t ever get the feeling that this was the Big Important Serious Novel that some mainstream reviewers have made it out to be. Sure, there are some serious elements, and those lend poignancy to the tale, but to me it seems just another diversionary read, to be consumed with a certain gusto and set back on the shelf among all of the other well-wrought entertainments of the semi-serious sort.” Leaves and Pages […]

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These “Reviews” and Ratings

I am merely a reader, a consumer of books for amusement and personal instruction, not a professional reviewer - and that is indeed a worthy profession, an important literary craft - so these posts are merely meant to be one person's reading responses, not scholarly reviews.

Early on in this blog I began rating the books I talked about on a 1 to 10 scale; it was meant to be a quick way to communicate my personal degree of satisfaction/pleasure (or the opposite) in each reading experience.

To emphasize: These are very personal, completely arbitrary ratings. These are merely meant to be a measure of the book's success in meeting my hopes and expectations as a reader.

5 & higher are what I consider as "keepers", in various degrees. A 10 indicates that I can think of no possible improvement. Ratings under 5 are rare & I struggle with giving those, but in all honesty sometimes feel them appropriate for, again, undeniably arbitrary and very personal reasons.

Each book is rated in its own context, NOT in comparison to the entire range of literature, which would, of course, be an impossible task.

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review book 419

review book 419

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419, Viking, 393 pages, $32.

419 by Will Ferguson: Review

A story behind the emails sent by so-called nigerian princes.

Jennifer Hunter

It has happened to all of us. We open our email in the morning and there is an “offer of a lifetime” from someone in Nigeria: a prince, a businessman, or a young woman in trouble. The anguished message pleads for help, requests you transfer money from your bank account to one in Nigeria or begs you open your bank account to receive millions of dollars for safekeeping — with a gratuity for your help. The reason you’ve been contacted, the email explains, is that you are honest, reliable and have a good head for business.

Together the scams are known as 419, named after a former section of the Nigerian Criminal Code. Most of us delete emails like these, recognizing they are clever ways to heist our money, but a surprising number don’t, making 419 one of the most lucrative economic pastimes in Nigeria. Will Ferguson peels back the covers on these types of scams in his new novel 419 , cleverly looking at the wretched ruse from both sides — victims and perpetrators.

The story he weaves is heart-wrenching, fascinating, and scary. A thriller with a raw nerve ending. It opens with the police investigating an automobile accident in a Western Canadian city. The driver, an elderly man who dies in the accident, is a retired school teacher who has blown his life’s savings in one of the Nigerian frauds. His naiveté has left his wife penniless and has conduced anger and confusion in his two adult children.

No-one had an inkling the upright Henry Curtis had been shipping his retirement money out of the country, naively trying to help Miss Sandra, daughter of a Nigerian businessman who was supposedly killed in a helicopter crash. Miss Sandra’s tale was a tragic fiction authored by clever 419 operators, and when Henry learned, after months, that he’d been wiped out he saw no solution but suicide, driving his car off the edge of an embankment.

While his children try to find out what happened to their dad, Ferguson takes us into the harrowing landscape of Nigeria where we are introduced to the swindlers and their fractious lives. Some of them are likeable, some pitiable, some just cruel. Ironsi-Egobia, akin to a Mafia Godfather, makes Tony Soprano look like one of the Care Bears. He has a similar omertà to the Soprano crew but none of Tony’s sense of humor. Nnamdi, the boy from the Niger Delta, is a charming character whose life becomes circumscribed by the advance of the petroleum engineers and the need to leave his oil-slicked fishing village to find work.

But no one, no one in Nigeria is to be trusted. Not government officials, not the police, no one.

Ferguson, who has written other novels and humor and has won the Leacock Medal three times, dazzles us in 419 with an intricately woven, urgent story. It is an unflinching, ambitious work, flinging us back and forth across the Atlantic, and taking us into danger when daughter Laura Curtis heads to Nigeria to seek revenge on the scammers who forced her father into suicide. It is a persuasive work of fiction based on a very original premise. Ferguson who swings so deftly from humor to thriller is a writer who can genuinely surprise.

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review book 419

Reading Matters

Book reviews of mainly modern & contemporary fiction

‘419’ by Will Ferguson


Fiction – hardcover; Viking Books; 399 pages; 2012.

For me, the best kind of literature is the kind that makes you look at something afresh or takes you to a location (or time in history) that you would never normally visit. Will Ferguson’s 419 is that kind of literature.

In short, it is about a Canadian man who gets stung by a Nigerian email scam, but it is also about the cultural and financial disparity between Africa and the West. It is a heady mix of adventure story, crime fiction and global thriller — albeit with a distinctive 21st century twist.

Caught in a web of deception

This rather ambitious novel has multiple storylines and a wide cast of characters. The central thread revolves around the death of Henry Curtis, a retired school teacher now working as a part-time watchman, who dies in an unusual traffic accident: his car, travelling at very high speeds, runs off the road one night and tumbles into a snowy ravine underneath a bridge. Initially, it is thought he may have hit a patch of black ice, but later, when it is revealed that his car made two attempts to leave the road, his death is chalked up as suicide.

When the home he shares with his wife — also a retired school teacher — is repossessed by the bank, it appears that Mr Curtis had numerous, and hefty, financial debts. He had, rather naively, been taken in my an email scam (known in Nigeria as “419” after the criminal code which makes this kind of activity illegal), the type most of us would ignore or delete if they made their way through our SPAM filter.

SUBJECT: Urgent Matter to the Attention of Mr. Henry Curtis. Please do not turn away! RECEIVED: September 12, 11:42PM Complements of the season! With warm heart I offer you wishes of good health from Africa. I am contacting you today regarding an urgent business proposal, and though this letter may reach you as a surprise, I implore you to take the time to go through it carefully as the decision you make will go a long ways toward determining the future and continued existence of a young woman’s happiness. Sir, I am writing today on behalf of Miss Sandra, daughter of Dr. Atta, late Director & Chairman of the Contract Award Committee for the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. As you may know, Dr. Atta died tragically in a helicopter crash in the Niger Delta under circumstances most suspicious. Miss Sandra’s uncle vowed to care for her, but he too has fallen afoul of government-backed criminals…

His two adult children — Warren and Laura — take his death and the impending loss of the family home in different ways. Warren, a married man with children, is prone to loud outbursts, all air and fury, while Laura, a single woman who makes her living as a copy editor, decides to beat the scammers at their own game.

Multiple storylines

In a second storyline, we meet the scammer — Winston — who runs his one-man operation out of a cyber cafe in Lagos. Winston is cleverer than most — he’s figured out that it pays to choose your targets carefully and “once hooked, it became a matter of playing them, of reeling in the line, overcoming their initial resistance, giving them slack at certain times, pulling taut at others”. But Winston is playing a dangerous game, because the world of cyberscamming is deftly controlled by street-gang syndicates who don’t appreciate those who go it alone.

A third storyline introduces Nnamdi, an innocent boy from a fishing village in the Niger Delta, who becomes unwittingly tied up with a Nigerian “mafia” boss who runs many of these internet scams. But when we first meet Nnamdi, he is working on Bonny Island — the terminus of the Trans-Niger Pipeline at the mouth of the Delta — where he “took motors apart and put them back together. He oiled bearings, cleaned cogs, replaced timing belts”. His situation is in stark contrast to the rest of his peers, many of whom are blowing up pipelines and kidnapping Western employees to get the message across that the global oil corporations are not welcome in the Delta.

Later, he meets and rescues a pregnant woman, who is from the Sahel “from a clan rumoured to carry Arabian blood in their veins”. This storyline — perhaps the weakest of the multiple ones that Ferguson juggles in choppy, sometimes staccato fashion — serves to show us how innocent, well-meaning people, such as Nmadi, can get caught up in events bigger than themselves. And it also shows us how corruption permeates through almost every facet of Nigerian life.

Ambitious novel

From my description above, it’s pretty clear that 419 is a big, sprawling novel, filled with all kinds of social, political and economic messages about the state of the world today.

It’s by no means a perfect novel — sometimes it feels like facts, especially the ways in which these “419 scams” work are being shoe-horned in, and it can never seem to work out its mind whether it’s a literary novel, a travel adventure or a sociopolitical thriller. It also experiments with style — sometimes the chapters are only several paragraphs long, and the section about Nnamdi could almost be extracted as a stand alone novella — not always successfully.

But, on the whole, this is a gripping read, one that feels authentic and edgy. It takes a big picture view and marries a cracking good plot with finely crafted prose and believable characters. And I suspect it would make a brilliant film, not least because of Ferguson’s eye for detail and the visual quality of his writing.

Of the three Giller Prize shortlisted novels I have reviewed so far, I would be more than happy to see this one win it.

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17 thoughts on “‘419’ by Will Ferguson”

I haven’t read this (and I’m not likely to), but I have read his Japanese travel book ‘Hokkaido Highway Blues’ a few times – excellent book 🙂

So, *chuckle*,you liked this one better than the Chris Cleave, eh?

Interesting! When this one first appeared at the start of the year, neither the description nor the couple of reviews I had read of it convinced me that it was worth getting. My thinking was I had read one novel about 419ers (Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani’s ‘I Do Not Come To You By Chance’) a few years ago and had no particular interest in reading another. This assumption was confirmed when over the following months I read two short stories about scammers (by Petina Gappah and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie respectively) neither of which – though each is well-written – delivered anything new or unexpected. Plot-wise, Ferguson’s book doesn’t sound like it adds anything new either, and yet since its Giller listing I keep seeing very favourable reviews of it and find myself intrigued. I don’t think I’ll be ordering it from Canada, but if a UK edition appears I may well give it a go.

From his bio on his website, I see he lived in Japan for five years, and I’ve got a sneaking feeling his wife might be Japanese given the names of their children (Genki and Yuki).

Well, it wouldn’t be hard, Lisa 😉

I’ve never read anything about 419ers before, so this felt very fresh and new to me, and has certainly made me view my SPAM box in a much different light. I often toy with the idea of replying to them, if only to wind the sender up, but having read this book I don’t think I will risk the danger! Aside from the email scam angle, you might like the subsidiary plot about Nnamdi, because it’s essentially about how the people of the Delta have to make a decision: do they fight the oil multinationals, ignore them or join them? It’s certainly made me more interested in finding out more about this aspect of Nigerian life. I must dig out Helon Habila’s “Oil on Water” which I bought last year, which is set on the Niger Delta and is about two journalists hired to find a kidnapped oil engineer.

ahh.. so this is the same person who wrote: ‘Hokkaido Highway Blues’? I definitely want to read this, too bad my library hasn’t stock this up yet! A bit annoyed with the slowness of local libraries, budget issue perhaps? I used to get one of those spam email before. It’s definitely the world’s most best known spam. I know of someone who fell for it, unfortunately.

Hi JoV, don’t be too harsh on your library — I should have pointed out in my review that this book is ONLY available in Canada. I’m sure it will get published in the UK at some point, but it could be a long wait — there’s no date listed on Amazon as yet.

Interesting – having just read Kevin’s review of it. He’s not so keen is he. I think I now know enough about the book and don’t think it will be number one on my “to be read” list, but at least I know what its about now!

I think this is good idea for a book so many people get sucked in by these scamsters ,all the best stu

I quite enjoyed this one, but hadn’t clocked it was going to be a socio-political thriller. I quite like big novels with global themes, so this one appealed. I think Kevin and I probably got different things out of it. I’d be happy to see this one take the prize, actually, if only because it’s so much more ambitious than anything else on the shortlist.

I’m always surprised that people fall for those scams. When I worked on a bird magazine, there was a scam going around with people offering to sell rare and exotic birds from Africa to people in the UK (where it is illegal to import them) and quite a few of our readers fell for it. I saw a lot of the emails — and they would include dodgy looking pictures of birds that were completely the wrong species, and all the species (and common) names would be spelt incorrectly etc. But if people want an African grey parrot for what they think is a cheap price they will do anything to get it… However, if it sounds too good to be true… it probably is!

One of the aspects of this novel that I enjoyed, and more so after I’d finished than while I was reading (which happens sometimes, doesn’t it), was the sense that there were a lot of interconnections that weren’t immediately obvious. Sometimes it’s clear: the central motif of the four-one-nine email with the myriad of senders/recipients…how much more interconnected could that be?! But sometimes it is more subtle. Like the question of tracks. The novel begins with the tire tracks, there is the question of tracking the route that the emails take, and there is the track travelled by the two men across the desert with their cargo. And where does truthfulness/scamming fit into each of these scenarios? I was expecting to enjoy this one, but I wasn’t expecting it to linger as much as it has!

I had mixed feelings about this novel as well – but I learned a lot & the story has a lingering impact. I’m very glad it made the short list. My review: http://www.exurbanis.com/archives/7148

Well done – you were the only one to pick it!

Yes; same thing happened last year, too.

I have just looked this up and you can buy it on Amazon… for £42.95 so I think I might just wait until it comes out in the UK though it is one I definitely want to read. Hopefully its recent win will get its publication speeded up. Like you I do often wonder how people can fall for these 419ers (a term I didn’t know and will now use more often and feel a bit clever ha) as they always seem so obvious. That said one of the Ferdinand van Schriach stories is about this in his first collection, or second (you can get them in one volume now)was about the same thing and showed you how it can actually be done. All his short fictions are based on real events. The most random 419er I ever had was from a Russian man who said if I didn’t buy some viagra off him right now he would be killed by the mafia. Bizarre. I didn’t and did worry briefly…

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419 by Will Ferguson

Will Ferguson seems to have a liking for con games. His 2007 novel, Hustle (published as Spanish Fly in Canada), followed a pair of 1930 short con grifters and their willing protege. However, in his Giller Prize (Canada's equivalent to the Booker Prize) winning novel 419 , Ferguson comes right up to date and focuses on a longer con, one which many of us will be aware of.

Anyone who has ever opened an E-Mail which proves to be a plea for assistance in getting large amounts of money ahead of the authorities will recognise the theme. Laura Curtis' father had such an E-Mail and having tried to help and spent all his money, he has driven his car off a bridge. Meanwhile, in Nigeria, a pregnant young woman walks through the dust, trying to escape her family and find something that ever she doesn't know what she is looking for. In the Niger Delta, meanwhile, the oil companies are moving in and a whole way of life is changing in the fishing villages there.

It's easy to see why this is a prize winning novel from quite early on. Ferguson mixes up his stories brilliantly, flitting from the snowy accident scene of Canada to the dusty landscape of Northern Nigeria and the crowded city life in Lagos without pause. Somehow, even with such differing locations, Ferguson provides a decent picture of each one without there ever being a feeling that there is a preference. No matter which location the characters are living in, they will face a struggle of some kind.

Perhaps the real surprise was how I ended up feeling about many of the characters in the novel. No matter whether they are conman or conned, almost everyone here feels as if they are a victim in their own way. I found myself feeling sympathy even for the people who are scraping a living by trying to ruin the lives of others. Even the kingpin, Ironsi-Egobia elicits sympathy, as Ferguson paints him as someone nearing death. In 419 , as in life, there are no good and bad people, just some people having to do bad things to try and survive.

Of course, great writing can be nothing without a decent story to hang it from and 419 has that as well. The pace of the novel is kept quite high and this is the kind of book that, when my eyelids were too heavy to read any further, I found myself turning the page regardless. Ferguson keeps you guessing, as a nearly forgotten character suddenly becomes important and everything becomes entwined. Ferguson is skilled enough and confident enough that he can leave certain plot strands hanging, leaving the reader wondering how they could and should have ended, but not needing to do anything to take that wonder away just for the sake of an ending.

Scam E-Mails are not a topic you may think would make for a decent novel. But, like the offer contained in the E-Mails themselves, 419 hooks you in and promises just a little bit more. Unlike the scams, however, the novel delivers on its promise and makes you glad you opened it right up until the end. Will Ferguson writes the cons so convincingly that no reader will feel they were conned out of the money they've paid for any of his works.

For another long con story, check out Conman by Richard Asplin , or the aforementioned Hustle is highly recommended.

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