419 by Will Ferguson

419419 by Will Ferguson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Originally published April 28th, 2013
I can’t decide how I feel about this book. The descriptions of Africa are evocative and dimensional; I could feel the heat and taste grit on my tongue. I definitely didn’t notice the half-page chapters when I was reading it; but then again I only notice chapters if the book is really boring. I did have some issues with plot and character development though.

[Spoiler Alert]
Laura manages to rob Winston with the same scheme he used on her father. While this allows for a reasonably happy ending and a sense of poetic justice, I had a hard time accepting it. Winston wrote email scams all day long. What are the chances he would have been taken in by one? In fact, Laura’s whole revenge plot is so fragile it’s a miracle that she succeeds at all. She manages to fool Winston into believing her and meeting her in Africa. Then she tricks him into letting her meet his parents. And charms his parents into giving her their names, addresses, and letting her take a picture of them all. (I also confused the okada boys who take her back to her hotel after she meets Winston’s parents with the area boys who accosted them earlier. I couldn’t understand why the okada boys didn’t rob her. That baffled me for quite a while.) Furthermore, why did the generous and kind Nnamdi suddenly become so hard-hearted? That he even contemplates killing Laura seems really out of character for him, especially after the risks and sacrifices he took for Amina. His death felt…gratuitous, like he was killed just for the tragedy of it. It irritated me. That might have been mainly because I liked him, and who likes it when their favorite character is killed?
[End Spoiler]

The language was confusing for large portions of the book. What’s an oyibo? Or a mugu? And no, there’s no glossary. That would be too easy. Is there a life-lesson here? Probably, but I’m getting my life-lessons elsewhere. Can I just have the glossary?
It almost feels as if Ferguson didn’t quite know what to turn this book in to, so he tried to make it into a bunch of different things that don’t always sit well together. It’s a mystery, and a socio-political statement, and a travel book, and a police-procedural. Would it have lost anything if there had been less police procedure, and more about Amina? Why is her past left so mysterious, but Nnamdi’s is described in detail? Does Laura really need a love interest? There’s a lot going on, but there are some parts that I think could have been pruned down or left out without hurting the overall story. Too much information is distracting.

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