I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
A car tumbles down a snowy ravine. Accident or suicide?
On the other side of the world, a young woman walks out of a sandstorm in sub-Saharan Africa. In the labyrinth of the Niger Delta, a young boy learns to survive by navigating through the gas flares and oil spills of a ruined landscape. In the seething heat of Lagos City, a criminal cartel scours the internet looking for victims.
Lives intersect, worlds collide, a family falls apart. And it all begins with a single email: “Dear Sir, I am the son of an exiled Nigerian diplomat, and I need your help ...”
419 takes readers behind the scene of the world’s most insidious internet scam. When Laura’s father gets caught up in one such swindle and pays with his life, she is forced to leave the comfort of North America to make a journey deep into the dangerous back streets and alleyways of the Lagos underworld to confront her father’s killer. What she finds there will change her life forever..
You can definitely tell that Will Ferguson has written travel books—the scenes in this book which are set in Nigeria are the most vivid and colourful sections of 419. By contrast, the Canadian parts are rather bland and cold, but perhaps he meant to have it that way.
It’s always interesting to see your own city portrayed in fiction and not only did the Canadian family live in Calgary, Laura lives in my neighbourhood. I recognized both the building that she lives in and the mall where she seems to do most of her eating. It’s not a fine dining establishment, but once again, perhaps that was the point. Laura has some “arrangement” which allows her to live in a condo tower that I couldn’t ever aspire to afford. These are Canadians who are getting by. By African standards, they are rich, but by North American standards they are just treading water. On my only trip to Africa in 2000, I visited Kenya—there are dozens of vendors at every toilet stop, aggressively selling their wares. As a not-very-well-travelled Canadian (at that point in time), I had difficulties, as I was on a budget and I am not by nature a bargainer. At least one woman told me, “You are rich, buy something from me!” I didn’t bother to argue with her—compared to her, I was rich, although I had used every spare dollar I had to make that trip.
One of my friends, the child of a diplomat, lived in Nigeria for a time. She claimed that it was every bit as awful as it is portrayed in the book—violence is rampant, environmental issues overwhelming, poverty is everywhere and politicans are corrupt. And yet, there are relatively decent people who live there and just want to survive and raise their children safely, just as Nnamdi does.
The enduring message that I came away with: there are people of all kinds in every society. Some are exploiters and some are exploited. And the world would be a better place if we could eliminate these exploitative relationships.