Quick Reviews: 419, Wild and The History of Mary Prince

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The History of Mary Prince: A West Indian Slave (Penguin Classics)

The History of Mary Prince by Mary Prince

Five words from the blurb: black, slave, Caribbean, London, document

The History of Mary Prince was the first narrative of a black woman to be published in English. There is no doubting its historical significance and the role it played in the abolition of the slave trade, but I’m afraid I don’t think it is worth seeking out.

I can’t remember where I heard about this book, but I remember receiving it through the post and being surprised at how thin it is. Mary Price’s story takes up just 31 pages and the rest of this 113 page, £8.99 Penguin Classic is made up of supplemental information, much of which is repeated several times.

Mary Prince’s story reads like a police statement. It is rushed, gives the briefest of details, and lacks any emotion. If you are studying slavery then this is an important document, but if you’re looking for an entertaining read I suggest you look elsewhere.

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.419Winner of 2012 Giller Prize

419 by Will Ferguson

Five words from the blurb: Africa, criminal, Internet, corruption, scam

419 is an intelligent thriller that investigates 419 Internet scams originating from Nigeria. It started off well, but lost its way towards the middle of the book. It felt disjointed and some of the plot twists didn’t feel realistic. I also felt that the parts set in Nigeria were far more interesting than those set in Canada.

This book contained several interesting ideas, but if you are looking for a great book on 419 scams I think I Do Not Come To You By Chance by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani is head and shoulders above Will Ferguson’s.

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.Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (Vintage)

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Five words from the blurb: death, impulsive, walk, heal, life

Cheryl Strayed was just 26 when her mother died of cancer. Her marriage collapsed and her life fell apart. She began taking drugs and she struggled to find happiness. In an effort to put her life back on track she decided to trek 1,100 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail; from the Mojave Desert to Washington State.

Cheryl was an infuriating narrator. As I read her story I swung from deep sympathy (for the loss of her mother), to anger and frustration (at her selfishness, affairs and drug taking). She was naive and stupid, but I admired her determination. In the end the great thing about this book is how inspirational it is – if she can turn her life around in this way, anyone can.

It was an entertaining read and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for some hope and inspiration.

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20 Comments

  1. Sandy says:

    Wild was kind of buzzing around in my periphery…some hated it and some loved it, so I stayed away from it until I was inspired or maybe forced to read it for a book club. I do think those that hated it mainly had issues with HER, her behavior and such, but you bring up a good point. This was one misguided, obnoxious woman and if she could do it, anyone could.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, I had the same experience you did with this book. I couldn’t decide whether or not to read it and then I kept finding copies in the local library and so decided to give it a try. I found it very engaging and actually quite enjoyed rolling my eyes at her behaviour. I think you might enjoy it :-)

  2. David says:

    I’d been looking forward to seeing what you had to say about 419 – despite my love of CanLit I wasn’t impressed with last year’s Giller list so never got around to this one, not least because I felt like I’d already read similar stories before (both Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Pettina Gappah have written short stories about scammers and of course Nwaubani’s novel). Love the UK cover, but I think I’ve been right to give it a miss.

    PS: love the sound of ‘The Skinning Tree’ in your currently reading sidebar – not heard of that one before.

    1. Jackie says:

      David, Last year’s Giller prize didn’t excite me either. I wasn’t impressed with Ru and I don’t read short stories, so that only left Imposter Bride (didn’t appeal) and Inside (which has very mixed reviews) Early conversations are saying that this year’s short list is disappointing too. None of them are calling to me, although I’m really looking forward to reading ‘The Orenda’. I’ll let you know how I get on with it and ‘The Skinning Tree’ (which won The South Asia Literature Prize)

      1. David says:

        Hmm… I actually think this year’s list isn’t bad at all. I’m just reading my fifth and final book from the shortlist (and 11th from the longlist) and I’ve enjoyed all of them, though with some reservations. I think a lot of the criticism of the shortlist isn’t so much of the books that are ON it, as of the books that aren’t (ie: The Orenda and The Luminaries). I don’t think they’re the five best Canadian books I’ve read this year (I’d say the Governor General’s Award shortlist is stronger and more varied) but all are decent books worth a read. From the longlist I just have The Orenda left to read (and October 1970 but that didn’t appeal and I don’t have a copy) and will hopefully get to that later this week.

        From last year I have to say I really liked ‘Inside’, but you didn’t miss anything by not reading Russell Wangersky’s short story collection.

        1. Jackie says:

          You’re probably right. I haven’t heard much about the actual books on the shortlist, only whinging about what didn’t make it. I’ll keep an eye out for reviews and see if any of them sound like my sort of thing.

      2. Shan says:

        I’m not finding this years shortlist disappointing, just surprising. There are others on the long list I was much more a fan of (The Orenda, Emancipation Day.) I think the fact that the big 3 prizes this year are so varied shows the talent that is out there. So don’t write books off too quick if you think they might not grab you!

        1. Jackie says:

          Shan, I haven’t heard much about ‘Emancipation Day’. After your recommendation I’ll keep an eye out for it! …and don’t worry, I’ve learnt that many of the best books don’t sound that interesting on paper.

          1. David says:

            I’d second Shan’s recommendation of ‘Emancipation Day’, Jackie – an utterly compelling story that is even more remarkable for being true. Of those on the shortlist I have a feeling you may enjoy Dan Vyleta’s, but read his ‘The Quiet Twin’ first (‘The Crooked Maid’ can be read alone, but is a sequel) – both are available in the UK and have strong plots. ‘The Quiet Twin’ is claustrophobically tense, being set almost entirely within a block of flats in Vienna at the outbreak of WWII.

        2. Jackie says:

          Just a shame that ”Emancipation Day’ isn’t available in the UK yet :-( I’ll see if my library has a copy of ‘The Quiet Twin’.

  3. Trish says:

    Out of this grouping I’ve only read Wild and agree with you on the admiration and the frustration. In the end I really enjoyed the book, particularly Strayed’s writing, but I was the only one in my book club who liked it or found anything redeeming in it! All of them felt that Strayed was a bit stupid (admittedly she was) and couldn’t get past the “whining.” Ha! Glad you liked it better than they did. ;)

    1. Jackie says:

      Trish, I’m surprised more people didn’t enjoy it as I agree that the writing was very good. I’d have thought most people would be able to identify with some aspects of her personality (if only the grief?) I wish I’d been there for your book club discussion – I bet it was very entertaining!

  4. Ah, Mary Prince — not the best of the slave narratives, I also think. Of course I’m glad it exists, but I agree with you that’s not well-written and compelling in the way that some others are. (Frederick Douglass obviously, and I think also Linda Brent/Harriet Jacobs.)

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenny, Mary Prince was my first slave narrative so it is good to know there are other, more compelling ones out there. I’ll try to get hold of one soon.

  5. Eric says:

    Great summaries. I’m ashamed I’ve never even heard of Mary Prince. Interesting how these documents have historical value, but don’t provide a lot of insight. Sounds like you are really in two minds about the central character of Wild. Do you think the author intended for her to by sympathetic throughout?

    1. Jackie says:

      Eric, ‘Wild’ is an autobiography so I’m guessing she wanted herself to come across well. She was realisitic and honest in her descriptions of her behaviour so I have to admire that, but I think it is safe to say I’d never become friends with her!

  6. Shan says:

    I wasn’t a massive fan of 419 last year, I thought it was a good read but was surprised to see it win the Giller given the other CanLit I had read that year. I agree with you that the parts in Nigeria were stronger than the parts in Canada. I think it would have been better if it had been bookended by the Canadian parts.

    1. Jackie says:

      Shan, It is good to know that you agree with me! I think you might be right about bookending the Canadian parts – anything to reduce the number of Canadian sections would be good! Let’s hope this year’s winner is better :-)

  7. Ifi says:

    Shame, I was looking forward to 419. I have just finished reading “I do Not Come To You by Chance” and althought I enjoyed it, I had hoped to get something more out of it, so it was very disappointing to to hear that 419 wasn’t up to scratch. I spent quite a few years in Nigeria and for those who care to know, I can tell you that “Chance” is not an exaggeration for effect. That is how things are/ work… corrupt, crude and ostentatious beyond belief. If 419 has nothing more to add, I might have to give it a pass.

    1. Jackie says:

      Ifi, If you have personal experience of life in Nigeria then I suspect you might find ‘419’ even more disappointing. I agree that ‘Chance’ wasn’t perfect, but it was far more entertaining that ‘419’. I think you’re right to pass on it.

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