We’re again pleased to have new contributors in the Readers’ Nook to help you find a literary gem! Whether your book club meets throughout the year or takes a break until fall, it’s never the wrong time to find that next great literary read that will lead to interesting discussions in your book club. And if you need more suggestions, have a look at our Book Club Bag collection.
In the novel 419 four storylines with four main characters make up the story.
The first has its setting in Calgary when a retired teacher, Henry Curtis, drives his truck off an embankment and dies. It proves to be a suicide and upon further investigation it is learned that he has lost all his life savings to a scammer from Nigeria, thus the title: 419 refers to a section of the Nigerian criminal code that states that anyone who obtains goods or money through false pretenses with intent to defraud will be sentenced to a term of not less than 5 years.
Laura, the daughter of the deceased, makes it her mission to trace the emails and meet the person she believes is responsible for her father’s death.
Winston, the scammer, is an educated young Nigerian with few prospects for the future. He spends his time in internet cafes scanning the internet for possible e-mail recipients whom he never expects to meet.
Amina is the younger wife of a northern cattle herder who escapes to the South to find a better life for herself and her unborn child.
Nnamdi is the son of a fisherman who sees his village’s way of life being destroyed by oil companies. The water is polluted and the forests clear-cut. He works for a time for oil companies but when this employment ends he finds work in the black market.
All the characters will come in contact in Lagos with many harsh and surprising consequences.
This novel gives insight into the techniques of 419ers and why Nigeria is such a dangerous country.
It is never too late to right a wrong! That is what Harold Fry attempts to do when one morning he goes to post a letter and keeps on walking. He is going to walk from one part of England to the other in the hopes to heal a long lost friend who is dying from cancer. He has no equipment, not even proper shoes, and it is completely a spur of the moment decision. He feels that by walking to his friend’s beside, he is atoning for how he mistreated her in the past and for oh so many other regrets.
Along the way the kindness of strangers impacts him and propels him on this journey. He meets a young woman who gives him hospitality and reveals that she is waiting for her lover to return—a year ago. And a young boy who probably has nowhere else to go, and travels with Harold for a while. Many characters latch on and are affected by Harold. He even becomes a little bit of a celebrity when the BBC gets a hold of his story and they follow him as he gets closer to the end.
Meanwhile, Harold’s wife, who is wondering what happened to him, is befriended by the widower neighbour. Their 40-year long marriage had become a silent and distant relationship until Harold embarks on his pilgrimage. What is fascinating about this story is that Harold takes this journey to heal someone, to give someone who is dying some hope, and the journey really becomes an amazing healing in his own life.
Cutting for Stone is an easy book to read, but not an easy book to describe. For example, how do you summarize a story about conjoined twins, born in Ethiopia, to a nun (who dies) and a British surgeon (who runs away)? The boys are raised by two Indian doctors and have a relatively peaceful childhood, but when political troubles with neighbouring Eritrea erupt, one twin is forced to escape to America.
And that’s only the first half of the book!
The story summary may be confusing. To begin with, the plot is set up around the main premise that life is a contradiction of terms. And so, Verghese presents a nun who gives birth, doctors who don’t have verifiable credentials, first-rate medical care in a third-world country. The contradictions are set inside the opening framework of the novel – the idea of conjoinment. The boys, Marion and Shiva, are born attached at the head. They are easily separated in a physical sense, but they stay conjoined emotionally throughout the story in many ways. As the tale progresses, we see all kinds of things (love, politics, medicine, family) that are united at first, but then break apart. If, and when, they come back together, there is always a significant difference.
The novel’s characters are exceptionally well drawn and balance themselves out in terms of the many themes. Starting with the boys, Marion and Shiva are mirror images of the same person. One embodies emotion, the other, logic. One feels, the other computes. Yet they think of themselves as a single unit and call themselves “ShivaMarion.” This becomes true of the many other parallel ideas that Verghese puts on the page.