Superfluous Matter
Books - 419 by Will Ferguson

I get most of my books from a used bookstore and so I'm rarely up to date on the latest offerings of the publishing world (with the exception of a few authors I follow more closely). Just before Christmas I read an article about Will Ferguson's latest, "419" and then the next day it won the Giller Prize. So I asked for the book for Christmas and I just finished reading it a couple weeks ago. I'm feeling so current and trendy!

Anyway, the book starts out following a Canadian family whose father commits suicide after losing all his money in a 419 Scam. The daughter starts to investigate it and eventually goes all the way to Nigeria to confront the perpetrator. For me that whole plot line was interesting enough but nothing special.

The novel really shines in its three other plot lines. Each follows a different Nigerian, filling in their back stories while also providing history on the country itself (particularly its involvement with international oil interests). It's a work of fiction so I have no idea how accurate Mr. Ferguson's depictions are, but they are very engaging and more than redeem the mediocre "419" part of the book.

It seemed like Mr. Ferguson was most interested in the Nigerian part of the story and just didn't have a good way to set it up. The "419" stuff is a convenient cross-over point with the western world but there was too much of it. It felt condescending. Like he thought his audience would suffer culture shock unless the "bizarre" Nigerian society was framed through a familiar context.

I don't mean to sound harsh, it is an excellent book (although major literary prize good...I dunno). I just wish it spent less time on the scam and more on the country that gave the scams their name.

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