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Nidifa Mohamed published her first book Black Mamba Boy in 2009 She took the material for it from her father s account of his real life to craft this phenomenal book, which, unlike her flawless beauty, is madeachingly beautiful by its mesh of strength and unapologetic flaws I met Nadifa at a writer s workshop in the middle of last year, and the wisdom, passion and grace with which she spoke seems to be naturally instilled into her writing The book is about a journey Not about a destina Nidifa Mohamed published her first book Black Mamba Boy in 2009 She took the material for it from her father s account of his real life to craft this phenomenal book, which, unlike her flawless beauty, is madeachingly beautiful by its mesh of strength and unapologetic flaws I met Nadifa at a writer s workshop in the middle of last year, and the wisdom, passion and grace with which she spoke seems to be naturally instilled into her writing The book is about a journey Not about a destination Though Jama is convinced there is a destination He dreams of meeting his father Just like we all are in life, breathlessly working towards attaining our goals In the end Jama realizes one thing not to observe the hustle and bustle of life but to BE IT Jama sets out to seek his father whom he believes will make his life a lot better He has grown tired and dissatisfied with his life on the street as a small Somali scavenger And when his mother dies, he decides to move An emotion and a decision beautifully captured by the writer when she writes Life is just this, Jama thought, a long journey, with light and darkness falling over you, companions all around, on their own journeys Each person sitting passively or impatiently, wondering whether the tracks of their fate will take them on their clattering iron horse to their destination or will sweep them away in an invisible path to another world And so she sums up what each of us has felt at some point That desire to move, to seek to complete ourselves somehow by finding an object of desire to which we might move towards Often times this is an object that is never there, but it causes us to engage in the journey nonetheless.Jama s journey is replete with trials and harsh moments, for which the writer does not shy away from in giving scintillating detail At barely ten years old the boy is left to cater for himself, and when he begins his journey, one can only admire his spirit and courage I looked up the map and traced my imagination from Yemen to Djibouti, Eritrea, Sudan, Egypt, Palestine, Marseille, Hamburg and finally Wales My mind was spinning I don t remember walking a distancethan a few kilometers in my life, and those of my friends who have been privileged to live in a country with a hitchhiking tradition, you will agree that this a great distance indeed One with no highways but the scorching desert sands for your path A little unapologetic flaw, I think, for which Mohammed allows Jama to transition rather too fast from place to place Never truly settling Though in fiction all is allowed, the very feeling that it is fictitious should perhaps not be a part of the reader s experience.But Jama s spirit is not destroyed by the harsh journey, or the strange people that he meets along the way One must also remember that this novel is set in the 30s and 40s Just a few decades shy of the independence movement and at the height of colonialism, and equally, the onset of the World War II, which started in Europe Mohamed puts this in context beautifully Not only does one Italian official imprison Jama in a chicken pen, but he also renames him for his own pleasure The cruelty mated on Africans by the colonialists is great and the reader with an aversion to human indignity will probably skip this section of the book In the writer s words the helplessness of Jama and his fellow Africans is clearly stated It is hard to avenge yourself on someone you fear, when everything about them, their height, power, possessions, confidence, imposes a sense of your own inferiority This is a straight forward novel that is enjoyable both because of its beautiful, honest language and the beautiful scenes that come alive and stay with you long after you have read them One may have a problem with the range of movement, the many places Jama visits and the many characters that he meets and leaves, but that is the nature of life There really isn t an absolute need for a direct dramatic trajectory in life is there we have the ups and downs that make it worth living Even if, like Jama, we lack a map or have no single penny in our pockets (((Read))) ↟ Black Mamba Boy ⇸ For fans of Half of a Yellow Sun, a stunning novel set in s Somalia spanning a decade of war and upheaval, all seen through the eyes of a small boy alone in the worldAden, Yemen,a city vibrant, alive, and full of hidden dangers And home to Jama, a ten year old boy But then his mother dies unexpectedly and he finds himself alone in the worldJama is forced home to his native Somalia, the land of his nomadic ancestors War is on the horizon and the fascist Italian forces who control parts of East Africa are preparing for battle Yet Jama cannot rest until he discovers whether his father, who has been absent from his life since he was a baby, is alive somewhereAnd so begins an epic journey which will take Jama north through Djibouti, war torn Eritrea and Sudan, to Egypt And from there, aboard a ship transporting Jewish refugees just released from German concentration camps, across the seas to Britain and freedomThis story of one boy s long walk to freedom is also the story of how the Second World War affected Africa and its people a story of displacement and family I m so thankful that I can read I m thankful that I happened to be born and grow up in circumstances that allowed me the luxury of literacy and the free time required to exercise and hone my reading skills Books are a tool for education, a refuge and a means of escape, and a powerful drug that entertains and empowers I can only imagine what people who grow up in circumstancesabject than mine think when they first behold a book, first understand the words on a page what a feeling that I m so thankful that I can read I m thankful that I happened to be born and grow up in circumstances that allowed me the luxury of literacy and the free time required to exercise and hone my reading skills Books are a tool for education, a refuge and a means of escape, and a powerful drug that entertains and empowers I can only imagine what people who grow up in circumstancesabject than mine think when they first behold a book, first understand the words on a page what a feeling that must be.In Black Mamba Boy, Jama s path to literacy is a slow and rocky one As a boy in Aden in 1935, he struggles to find a place Eventually, his mother s death forces him to leave home in search of his father, who has never returned from his own quest for fortune Jama spends the next ten years travelling from one part of East Africa to another Along the way he tries a myriad of jobs, from the most physical and menial to the terrifyingly militaristic Throughout his travels, Jama is anchored at one end by his faith in his mother, who is watching over him from the afterlife, and his imagined conversations with his father, urging him to continue on this journey without an end.The story can seem a bit aimless, at times Though Jama is primarily motivated by the quest to find his father, he takes a slow, meandering path towards that goal Just when it seems like he has found a stable job that will help him earn enough money to find his father, a twist enters the story and shakes up his life Death, racial abuse, poverty, and even locusts dog Jama s heels As he travels from community to community, he is forever at the mercy of his identity as a Somali, as a black African, as a young boy Each encounter, for better or for worse, changes Jama and influences his growth By the end of the book, he is no longer the naive boy who left Aden to find his father He is an accomplished young man with a child and wife of his own waiting for him he has seen the world, seen what it offers and the problems it creates He is not infallible, not invincible, but he is not defeated either.The narration in Black Mamba Boy can seem very distant Some events happen very quickly, with weeks or months passing in the span of a paragraph and very little characterization of Jama to show for it Even events that receive a slower,detailed treatment seem to happen at a remove The tense here is one of a definite, fixed path rather than a pregnant, possible past There is little in the way of suspense Near the end of the story, Jama is delighted with how much he has earned from his first voyage aboard a British ship out of Port Said Then he squanders the money on women in London This kind of reversal could have happened slowly and intimately, with the reader cringing as it becomes apparent what is happening Instead, it happens quite quickly, and I never really felt connected to Jama as he was wasting his money The same kind of distance is present for most of the book I m not a fan of this kind of narration and the barrier it creates between reader and protagonist.That being said, the narration also clearly presents a world view of a young boy It provides an interesting perspective of East Africa just before and during World War II There is no intrusive injection of political concerns, no exposition about the disposition of British or Italian or German forces in Africa The information, and its interpretation, in this book all comes to us the way a young man from Somalia might learn and interpret it as he travels across East Africa His opinions of Italians, Britons, and other Europeans are formed from his close and, sadly, colonial interactions with individuals from these nations There are ironic observations or misunderstandings that we, as readers from a different background, might be tempted to find laughable for Jama, though, they are real and credible points of view.This perspective was what originally drew me to Black Mamba Boy, so I m glad that my expectations were not misplaced This isn t just a novel set in Somalia but told from the point of view of a wise, educated person It isn t about the struggles of Somalis filtered through the lens of someone who shares my upbringing It s not even filtered through the lens of someone like Mohamed herself, or her father as he is now upon whose life the story is loosely based It s a raw portrayal of what the life of a young boy in Somalia at that age might have been like There are cultural and social forces, such as the clan structure, that somewhat escaped my understanding but I could see their presence There is nothing wrong with apolished presentation, such as in The In Between World of Vikram Lall But I really appreciated this type of perspective.I picked up Black Mamba Boy on a whim, knowing nothing about the book or its author I was pleased with the result Though it lacks a single, defining characteristic that makes it awesome or intriguing, there is enough to this book to make it a worthwhile read Based on the story of her father s life, Nadifa Mohamed has woven a tale of a young boy s journey through Africa and back Born in Hargeisa in Somaliland, Jama quickly finds his ideal home life evaporating when his father disappears one day His mother waits in vain and then decides to move to Yemen to find work When she dies there, Jama sets out on a mission to find his father under the mistaken impression that they would love each other I don t know what parts of the book are genuine and whi Based on the story of her father s life, Nadifa Mohamed has woven a tale of a young boy s journey through Africa and back Born in Hargeisa in Somaliland, Jama quickly finds his ideal home life evaporating when his father disappears one day His mother waits in vain and then decides to move to Yemen to find work When she dies there, Jama sets out on a mission to find his father under the mistaken impression that they would love each other I don t know what parts of the book are genuine and which ones are embellished, but it was indeed a remarkable journey that took Jama through a lot of African countries, Palestine, and Wales Unlike his father, however, he chose to return to his wife and child, which sort of made me like himat the end than I did through the first half of the book.Despite the promising theme, I did not much enjoy this narrative The constant nastiness of people around Jama in the first couple of chapters simply put me off the whole book When Jama, tired of his mother s abuse, runs away, his street friends put me off even further I disliked Shidane right from the beginning and just wanted him to go away But he keeps appearing and is in supposedly one of the most heartwrenching scenes of the book Except I wasn t heart wrenched I just yawned and turned the page There are some quite interesting moments in the book and Jama is not all about stealing and using misogynist swear words In fact, those aspects of his character only come out when Shidane is there The author keeps us focused on a single character for most of the book Jama But while this works in large parts of the narrative, it doesn t always make sense I still don t understand why some people were randomly nasty to him The author also keeps the characters at arms length and I felt a complete disconnect from Jama and pretty much everyone else Even though momentous scenes were happening on the page, I never got emotionally involved This is a decent enough book and Jama s journey is really interesting in itself, especially considering the time period when the world was in chaos during and after World War Two But I think she failed to bring much depth to the story, which would have made it outstanding Perhaps, this might have worked better for me if it had been non fiction This book was really in my wheelhouse I love historical fiction I love African literature And I love reading about places that I have absolutely no knowledge of The action centers around the horn of Africa in the pre and post World War 2 years The protagonist, Jama, a Somali, finds himself caught up in the Italian invasion of Ethiopia and its neighbors Jama and his mother are living with very reluctant relatives and their situation is precarious Eventually he leaves home to live on the st This book was really in my wheelhouse I love historical fiction I love African literature And I love reading about places that I have absolutely no knowledge of The action centers around the horn of Africa in the pre and post World War 2 years The protagonist, Jama, a Somali, finds himself caught up in the Italian invasion of Ethiopia and its neighbors Jama and his mother are living with very reluctant relatives and their situation is precarious Eventually he leaves home to live on the streets only to return and find his mother dying When she passes he lights out to find the father he never knew Jama is a survivor and his adventures and near death experiences are harrowing to say the least The author easily evokes both the beauty and poverty of the near desert lands and its melting pot of peoples Jama s quest for reunification with his father and a better life for his family and friends is at turns heartbreaking and beautiful The consequences of occupation by colonial powers on the peoples of the horn of Africa still reverberate I feel that I got a vicarious peek at a place I ve always wished to know a little better Black Mamba Boy is based on the story of Nadifa Mohamed s father, Jama, whom we first meet as a street child in Aden in 1935 When he falls out irrevocably with his friends, then loses his mother, Jama resolves to set out and find Guure, his own long missing father, last heard of heading for Sudan which is not nearly as far as Jama will travel over the course of the following twelve years.Though it tells Jama s story, this isn t a straightforwardly biographical novel from interviews, I gather Black Mamba Boy is based on the story of Nadifa Mohamed s father, Jama, whom we first meet as a street child in Aden in 1935 When he falls out irrevocably with his friends, then loses his mother, Jama resolves to set out and find Guure, his own long missing father, last heard of heading for Sudan which is not nearly as far as Jama will travel over the course of the following twelve years.Though it tells Jama s story, this isn t a straightforwardly biographical novel from interviews, I gather that Mohamed embellished some parts, and that others were perhaps embellished already Throughout, one is reminded that we make stories out of our lives Mohamed s introduction prologue, where she describes the inspiration for her book, is novelistic in tone and style the departure of Jama s father becomes a tale to tell, as does the origin of his mother s nickname for her son a mamba slithered over her while she was pregnant with him, but left both unharmed hence the nickname Goode, or black mamba people displaced by the Second World War tell stories that transform their homelands into a distant paradise, whatever the reality was that they left behind.Mohamed s narrative itself has the feeling of being told rather than written, with its long, discursive paragraphs and its structure, swooping in on certain events, then back out again to continue Jama s journey What s striking is that, whatever happens to Jama, one never doubts his story within the pages of the novel Mohamed s voice has the ring of truth the truth of the storyteller.There are, however, moments when Black Mamba Boy stumbles they tend to be when Mohamed is acting as the 21st century person looking back on history, rather than as the novelist inhabiting the period Compare, for example, her statement that at his tender age Jama could not imagine the kind of mechanised, faceless slaughter the Italians would bring to Africa 157 with the passage describing a battle a few pages later 165 8 , which really evokes the sense of Jama s and others being caught up in events larger than any one person could ever hope to comprehend There s no question, to my mind, which is the better technique Another issue with the novel is the odd typo, in particular Mohamed s tendency to use a comma in place of a semi colon this happens often enough to be distracting, which is especially a problem when the flow of the story is so important The wider historical context of Black Mamba Boy is one about which I know rather little, so I m reluctant to judge how Mohamed represents history But I will say that I have an abiding impression of Jama and others individuals, peoples, nations enduring circumstances almost too harrowing for words, and doing what they can to survive Some make it through others don t Jama survives, of course, and one might say that the trait of his that most shines through in the novel is his tenacity, his striving to grasp the opportunities that come along, however steep the obstacles What a story he had to tell what a story Nadifa Mohamed has told More biography than fiction and sadly not quite either Not enough historical explanation to educate me, not enough characterisation to hook me, not enough narrative shape to engross and entertain me Some good descriptive writing, and I do knownow than I did, but the occasional sentimental authorial voice was intrusive, and, grrrrr, so many sentences were separated by commas was her editor like I was struggling to pay attention It took me a while to get through this book I just didn t care about Jama, the main character, and he moves from place to place so quickly I didn t get a chance to care about any of the others It is interesting to see the Italian occupation of Africa during World War II through a Somali boy s eyes, but I m not sure the novel knew what to be Travel War Epic journey Instead it is a little bit of everything and not enough of anything. Essentially it is the life and travels of a young Somalian It is a great adventure story and a great example of what historical fiction can be You really get insight into the lives of refugees, the variety of native populations in Northern Africa, and colonization around WWII I love how no matter where Jama goes he will always be ok as long as he can find his clan Lots of goodness here, it is worth picking up. You can almost smell this powerful first novel There is the stink of rotting goat meat, the sour odour of sweat and dust and the hot smoke in the boiler room of a British Navy steamship, as we follow Somaliland born Jama, the main character, on an extraordinary journey from the backstreets of 1930s Yemen, through 30s and 40s Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, to the 50s docksides of peasouper Britain If you wrung out the pages there d be a mess of blood and sand the young Jama is educate You can almost smell this powerful first novel There is the stink of rotting goat meat, the sour odour of sweat and dust and the hot smoke in the boiler room of a British Navy steamship, as we follow Somaliland born Jama, the main character, on an extraordinary journey from the backstreets of 1930s Yemen, through 30s and 40s Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, to the 50s docksides of peasouper Britain If you wrung out the pages there d be a mess of blood and sand the young Jama is educated in the school of exceptionally hard knocks, loosing first his mother, then his father, and then worse conscripted into Mussolini s army, East Africa branch So, it s a visceral read and UK Somalilander author Nadifa Mohamed s writing is so raw that, at times, I had to put the book aside and take a deep breath It turns my stomach even to recall a scene in which one of Jama s friends is brutally sodomised and then slaughtered by a couple of power crazed Italian soldiers in Ethiopia For that one she wins the Reservoir Dogs Grand Prize for the Graphic Portrayal of Senseless Violence I won t say it s all doom and gloom Black Mamba Boy is not quite a misery memoir In fact Jama is a very hardy and resourceful young man, who takes his pleasures where he finds them how could he survive otherwise Neither is he on a western traveller s journey of self exploration Instead he lives like a Somali nomad writ large, riding the waves of history and circumstance on the surfboard of his wits until he finds a place of relative rest a damp and foggy postwar England plastered with signs declaiming No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs Nadifa Mohamed may the the first writer to try to infuse a novel written in English with the flavour of the Somali language Spare , lean , efficient these are not words to describe her prose but in my view her cross cultural literary experiment is an interesting one which will bearfruit as her style develops This one s a 4 5, then, on the basis that I m looking forward to reading Novel No 2 which I understand is in production, and set in 1980s Hargeisa I ll save my fifth star for that