08 November 2007

Cry For Help: 36 Scam E-mails from Africa (Henning Wagenbreth)

This colourful little book is as bizarrely humorous as it is magnificently illustrated and cleverly laid out. Beginning with the premise that “African scam mails differ from other fraudulent e-mails in their creativity, audacity and their ludicrous claims”, the author/illustrator of Cry For Help has selected and presented a fanciful collection of original missives from fraudsters posing as repentant Islamic guerillas, wealthy orphans, corrupt yet repentant government employees, and other richly detailed characters:

You’ve seen a few of these before, haven’t you? And after the tenth or twentieth, you probably hit ‘Delete’, twiddled your spam filter and got on with your life. But pity the poor schmuck who’s not as skeptical as you are. The ignorant American, for example, for whom Africa is rich and wild and exotic. The letter assures him that he’s been carefully selected as a business partner, the description of a tragedy awakens his compassion and the awareness of his civilising advantage sways him to certainty. He pays a (relatively small, in USD) ‘admin fee’, and he never hears from the swindler again.


A bigger shame, however, would be if these deliciously enticing e-mails (which read like old folk tales of good and evil kings, and golden treasures) were sacrificed on the altar of anti-spam. They’re a true piece of social commentary, unveiling in a tragicomic and artful manner some of the practical ins and outs of the North-South conflict and how easily the Internet, a tool of globalisation, can be turned on its industrialised creators.

I salute the author and illustrator, and I urge you to buy this cheeky book. It’s worth chatting about, laughing at and (as a contemporary relic) having on your bookshelf.


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