Saturday, 27 July 2013

"419" by Will Ferguson

I love book clubs because you experience different responses to every book.  Barbara and I have often differed in our responses.  Often our differences are extreme.  Such was the case with this book.  Since Barbara was away, our discussion happened on the internet.

I was sorry to have missed the June meeting; I was travelling.  Just now finding time to read 419 and am loving it. 
I understand you were not fond of the book and am wondering why.  I can imagine the shifting of place/person may be one reason, although I find that adds to the intrigue.  I am enjoying reading this novel more than I have any others for several months.

A connection to the novel is really central to the enjoyment.  I can see where your enjoyment would be increased by your understanding of the country.  Our life experiences and connections are so different.
My problems with the book:
1.) characters- I love getting inside the skin of a character.  I need characters that I can cheer for or even characters that I can hate. I had no feeling for any of the characters.  Amina took up many, many pages and her name was not mentioned until chapter 47.  I spent pages wondering who she is and where she is going and why.  I never felt that any of those questions were answered after persevering through the story.
2.) description- there was too much for my interest.  It overwhelmed the plot.  I wanted to get on with the plot while the pages were filled with detailed description.
3.) plot- too confusing with such uneven plot lines and when they came together it was chaotic.
Basically, and perhaps the real reason, I had difficulty with this book is because it is so depressing.  In last night's discussion it led to the whole aspect of scamming and I become discouraged about what the world has become.  Who can you trust?  Anyone?  It becomes overwhelming.

Have finished 419 now.  What a memorable read and in my opinion a fantastic novel.  A novel--not a true story, not real people, with a few flaws in the plot, elements of the unbelievable, but a wonderful story of Nigeria.  It is a chaotic country with 12 linguistic groups and  8 major ethnic groups.  A collection of people brought together by the British Empire that really do not belong together. Amina was probably the best described.  The story highlighted numerous times that she was Sahel.  African Sahel is a narrow band all across Africa from Ertrea, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Senegal to Mauritania.  Only a tiny sliver of it goes through northern present day Nigeria.  If she was from Nigeria, although it was obvious she did not feel so, it was from the part where the strictest Sharea Law would have been.  Her pregnancy would have been out of wedlock or with a man other than her husband, most likely the former, and her family would have not only had the right but the obligation to kill her based on their strict beliefs.  She was fleeing that.  And through her we see so much of present day Nigeria and its diversity, what the west and the oil industry has done.
You are correct the novel had special meaning to me.  I  have met many Nigerians from those hectic years right after the civil war.  People with names like Sunday on a banjo, chief Ajao who sent my daughter designer clothes from Paris when she was a baby and introduced us to many famous musicians from around the world when we were in Manhattan and he would be visiting.  Fascinating people. I had my iPad next to me for most of the read checking places, expressions, words etc.
When reading I never expect the characters to be real people; they aren't.  I do expect them to capture a semblance of the characters who might be a part of the story.  I think Will Ferguson excelled in doing this.  If I had been at the book group, I would have given it an 8, a high rating for me.

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