If you read one work of ficiton from 2012, choose 419 by Will Ferguson. As one of my bibliophile friends said, "The writing is, dare I say, lyrical." Well, she dare say and so do I. Yet there is a crackling good plot and the characters are diverse and finely drawn.
419 is the section of the Nigerian Criminal Code that deals with fraud, anything where money is gained by deceptive means. The story opens in Calgary where Henry Curtis has just died in a single vehicle car accident. During the investigation, anomalies appear and evidence points to Henry taking his own life. Further digging into his affairs shows that Henry has lost his house and all of his savings to a 419'er from Nigeria. His wife is left with no house and no money.
Henry's daughter, Laura is determined to track down the thief and exact revenge for his death. By sheer determination and following some research started by her brother, Laura uncovers the 419'er and flies to Nigeria to confront him. But this is no simple thriller with clearly identifiable villains and heroes. Everyone involved is a victim.
Before Laura gets to Nigeria we meet Winston who has cheated Henry out of his life's savings. You'd like to hate him, after all, he caused Henry's suicide. The thing is Winston dreams of reaching the West and having the opportunity to be an legal entrepreneur in a country like Canada where people are free and have all kinds of chances. He looks after his parents and is a good and respectful son in many ways. He doesn't understand the evil he is doing and thinks he is merely "milking" North American greed.
Amina is a Nigerian of a nomadic tribe that is rapidly disappearing. We meet her as she tries to escape to a southernn city with her unborn baby Her dream is simple. She would like to own a stall in the market and sell goods to support herself and her child who will be born soon.
Nnamdi lives in the Niger Delta and when we meet him is a young boy. His dream is to help his parents and it looks for a while like he has found the way. He becomes a mechanic for a Western Oil operation but when the crash in prices comes, he loses his privileged job. Desperate, he becomes involved with the black market oil that is stolen from ruptured pipelines and distributed to all parts of Nigeria.
Ferguson deftly ties their lives together and through their eyes he reveals the corruption that undermines and the desperation that drives Nigerians. They live in a hopeless place, a dangerous place, an extremely unstable place. Nigeria's culture, society and environment are all victims of the Western Oil companies who care little for the damage they cause.
The end of the book shows how complex the situation in Nigeria is. 419 is a fascinating condemnation of human greed and the consequences of destroying the culture and environment of far-off countries. We sympathize with Laura yet it is impossible not to feel empathy for the Nigerians who get in the way of Big Oil discovering more and cheaper sources of crude. Everyone is a victim.
Will Ferguson is Canadian. 419 deservedly won the Giller Prize for 2012. His 12 books have featured travel adventure, humour and literary fiction. Other titles by Ferguson include Happiness, Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw and a Canadian Humour Trilogy.
I am an avid reader and like to share some of my "finds" with others.