Judges of The Folio Prize 2015 have announced the eight titles on the much anticipated shortlist:
'10:04' by Ben Lerner (Granta)
'All My Puny Sorrows' by Miriam Toews (Faber)
'Dept. of Speculation' by Jenny Offill (Granta)
'Dust' by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor (Granta)
'Family Life' by Akhil Sharma (Faber)
'How to Be Both' by Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton)
'Nora Webster' by Colm Tóibín (Viking)
'Outline' by Rachel Cusk (Faber)
Sponsored by The Folio Society, celebrated publisher of beautiful editions of the world’s greatest books, the prize recognises the best English-language fiction from around the world, regardless of form, genre or the author’s country of origin. Rich and varied, with writers originating from North America, the UK, Ireland, Kenya and India, the shortlist comprises a wide range of international voices. Familiar prize-winning names - Ali Smith and Colm Tóibín - are joined by critically-acclaimed newer voices such as Ben Lerner and Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor.
Independent publishers make a strong showing, with Faber and Granta representing three titles each, while the world's largest English language publisher, Penguin Random House, represents the remaining two places on the list. A number of these books are explicitly engaged with the process of writing itself, with each in its own way triumphantly affirming the unique role storytelling plays in making sense of our complex world.
Shortlisted authors are now in the running for the £40,000 overall prize, which will be awarded at a special ceremony at the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel on Monday 23 March.
For over 65 years The Folio Society has been publishing beautiful illustrated editions of the world's greatest books. With specially commissioned illustrations, many editions are further enhanced with introductions written by leading figures in their fields: novelists, journalists, academics, scientists and artists. There are hundreds of Folio Society editions currently in print covering fiction, biography, history, science, philosophy, children's literature, humour, myths and legends and more. Exceptional in content and craftsmanship and maintaining the very highest standards of fine book production, Folio Society editions are created to last for generations. Folio Society titles can be bought from www.foliosociety.com, by telephone on 0207 400 4200, by visiting The Folio Society Bookshop, 44 Eagle Street, London, WC1R 4FS, or from selected retail partners.
by Rana Asfour
Qúnzi for skirt
kùzi for trousers
wàzi for socks
George Saunders was last night announced as the winner of The Folio Prize 2014 for Tenth of December, published by Bloomsbury.
MacArthur Fellowship winner George Saunders is an award-winning writer of short stories, essays, novellas and children’s books. Selected from a ‘hugely impressive shortlist’ (David Sexton, Evening Standard) Tenth of December is a dazzling and disturbing collection of short stories that illuminate human experience and explore figures lost in a labyrinth of troubling preoccupations.
The Folio Prize 2014, worth £40,000, aims to recognise and celebrate the best English-language fiction from around the world, published in the UK during a given year, regardless of form, genre or the author’s country of origin. It is the first major English-language book prize open to writers from all over the world. This is the inaugural year. The Folio Prize is sponsored by The Folio Society, the celebrated publisher of beautiful editions of the world’s greatest books. (Source: thefolioprize.com)
I received a request to read/review 'Beyond Belief' by Helen Smith around Christmas holidays last year. As of January 28th the book has become available in paperback, audio and ebook editions and I am happy to write in that this latest addition to the Emily Castles Mystery series, is just as light-hearted and engaging as ever.
This time, Emily Castles lands a gig with the Royal Society for the Exploration of Science and Culture to attend their annual conference being held in Torquay entitled 'Belief and Beyond'. The society will have for the first time in its history, extended the invitation to mediums, hypnotists and psychics. Emily's mission? Hired by the society's current president Gerald Ayode, she is there to investigate the possible threat to the conference's main attraction and 'super star' Edmund Zenon who is offering a £50,000 reward to anyone who can prove the existence of the paranormal. A well-known rationalist, he is not only a TV celebrity hoping to plug his book at the conference but his tour is aptly entitled 'Don't Believe the Hype'. Quite an inflammatory title at a conference that specialises in nothing but the paranormal.
The setting for the novel is The Seaview Hotel in Torquay aptly named for its location. It is in the waters of Torquay that Zenon has promised his audience, who are gathering in this seaside village from near and far, the most amazing gig on Earth: he will walk on water. And so enter a wide range of amusing (the colonel) and the not so amusing (Madame Nova) and even sinister characters who are all hoping to witness the moment Zenon delivers on his promise.
By now readers of Helen Smith will be expecting a diverse list of eccentric characters and she does not fail to deliver. There is never a dull moment as the characters battle each other for attention. There is murder, fortune-telling, a prophecy, and a very memorable baptism scene. And, of course, there is philosophy professor, Dr. Muriel Crowther, who is like the 'Watson' to our female 'Sherlock'.
Helen Smith's 'Beyond Belief', a whodunnit in all sense of the word, touches upon sensitive, humane issues such as ordinary people's need for the paranormal and the reason people feed into the hype of fortune tellers, psychics, and mediums. It also highlights how wrong it could all go and how easily some take advantage to prey and exploit people's vulnerabilities at a time of loss, bereavement and loneliness. It highlights how people's fears, anxieties, hopes and dreams are feeding an industry, whether authentic in its claims or not, that is constantly expanding and that is proving hard to ignore.
Finally, let me tell you why I like Helen Smith and why you should read her books. It's simple: Helen Smith is an author who listens to her readers. When those readers loved Emily Castles from the word go and asked to know more about her, Helen Smith was listening. In 'Beyond Belief' she creates settings that allow her main character the opportunity to connect with the reader. We glimpse a more intimate, possibly romantic side to Emily that was lacking in the previous book. I do believe she has a lot of growing up to do as a character and I do think there is more to her than the author is letting on. And best of all? Emily's a South London girl. Enough said!
To know more about Helen Smith, click HERE.
Great news: I have a new book to rave about and recommend off the tip of my tongue as soon as someone suggests a title to read. Last year was 'Gone Girl' by Gillian Flynn (click HERE to read the BookFabulous review). Less than a week into this new year and I'm already excited about Liane Moriarty's latest book 'The Husband's Secret'.
The novel, set in Australia, is about a woman, Cecilia Fitzpatrick, who is living the perfect life. She is in love with and married to the town's handsome much-loved and highly-respected member of the community, Jean Paul, who happens to come from a well-to-do family as well. Together they have three beautiful high achieving young daughters. Chairman of the school's PTA, Cecilia has also recently launched a new very successful career involving Tupperware. In short, the woman has it all.
One day, while searching for a souvenir in the attic - a piece of the original Berlin Wall as it happens - to give to her teenage daughter who is currently obsessed with that story having moved on from her obsession with the Titanic, she accidentally stumbles upon a sealed enveloped addressed in her name. Recognising the writing as that of Jean Paul she cannot open it as it has clear instructions that Cecilia is only to ever read the letter in the event of his death.
And here the dilemma starts. Does she open it knowing full well that if she told any one of her friends about it, nearly every one of them would urge her to do just that? Or should she return it to where she found it and pretend it didn't even exist? But it does exist she reasons and starts to obsess about finding answers to questions like why it was there in the attic and not filed away with all of Jean Paul's other legal work? and why had he not given it to their solicitor to keep in the first place?
Her decision? Of course, she opens the letter - (I am not spoiling this for you as the title of the book kind of gives it away) but when she does, it is only to discover that in her hand she holds something akin to a Pandora's box (who by the way Moriarty begins and ends her novel with) that now unleashed unto Cecilia's universe has set in motion a string of events that will change the lives of those closest and dearest.
What Moriarty does with this novel is very clever. She brings a group of ordinary people leading ordinary lives and strings them together in the most extraordinary way. Yet in spite of the novel switching from one character's life to the other, there is an order to the madness and it flows beautifully. However, the reader will run out of guessing options as to the content of the letter and then as to where on earth Moriarty is leading us all. And by us, I mean the readers. For once that letter is opened the reader is no longer an impartial entity but remains challenged throughout. It's like Moriarty defies you to act any differently to her characters when faced with the same situations. It is a novel that will force you to address who you are at your core and what you would do when your values, beliefs, and everything you know about wrong and right are put to the test.
The plot is very believable, so much so that it will have book club members shouting over each other to be heard and most likely at each other. And that in my opinion makes it well worth reading and ultimately gives depth and credibility to the writing. It is a novel about redemption, love, and closure. It is a story about regrets, guilt, and many many secrets.
My best friend and I are still at lock horns with her unbudging attitude that Cecilia should not have opened the letter in the first place. My argument? why write a letter with a secret if you don't want to be found out? Which one of us is right? We'd like you to be the judge of that so come on, go and read/download the book now. A friendship could be at stake here :)
Maravan Vilasam is a Tamil with a passion for food. The youngest of four, he is raised by his great aunt Nangay in Jaffna after his parents burn to their death during the 1983 pogroms in Colombo; the same year that Sri Lanka is plunged into a brutal civil war that will last for over 27 years. With an early interest in cooking instigated by helping Nangay cook meals to sell at the market stall in Jaffna, he quickly learns from his mother's sister all the secrets to Tamil cooking and most importantly to Ayurvedic cuisine.
The novel opens with Maravan as a low-paid refugee-seeker in Zurich, living amongst Switzerland's Tamil diaspora. The civil war in Sri Lanka has reached its pinnacle as Maravan desperately tries to make enough money to send back to his ailing aunt Nangay who is suffering from a vicious type of Diabetes. The year is 2008, one of Switzerland's largest banks has had to write down a further US$19 billion and Lehman Brothers have gone into insolvency. Europe is officially in recession.
Things are tough on everyone in Switzerland but particularly so for Maravan who is working as kitchen help in one of Zurich's finest restaurants 'Chez Huwyler'. With N-authorisation status, which allows asylum seekers such as himself, to only work in specific catering jobs for low wages, there is minimal chance of advancement in his job. In spite of that, he continues to nurture his dream of one day owning a turmeric yellow van with 'Maravan Catering' on the side and to open 'Maravan's' which will be 'the place for avant-garde subcontinental cuisine, paying homage to the aromas, tastes and textures of Southern India and Sri Lanka'. Until then, with his meagre wage and what is left of it after he sends some money home, he continues to experiment with cooking at his home keeping him busy and mostly out of pocket.
At Huwyler, Maravan meets Andrea, a beautiful waitress who has trouble holding a job for more than a few months. After an altercation between the head chef and Maravan, she ends up inviting herself to Maravan's house for dinner. Wanting to impress her, Maravan 'borrows' a kitchen equipment to use for preparing Andrea's meal, the Love Menu. Although the meal goes partly as planned, the same cannot be said of Maravan's plans to return the machine without being noticed. He is fired, goes on the dole and understandably struggles to find another job.
That is, until Andrea comes up with an ingenuous idea to set up the 'Love Food' a private catering company which offers ancient Ayurvedic aphrodisiac recipes to a certain clientele. It all starts off simple and easy but with the business struggling to take off in the dire economic times and Maravan's obligations to his family and his amounting debts, the business takes a whole new turn. The company finds itself immersed in the world of shady dealings with shady people. Maravan's beliefs and values are tested and re-tested time and time again as he struggles to get to grips with 'the dirty stuff' side of the business. Maravan's life, as he knows it, is never the same again.
It is beyond a doubt that 'The Chef' has a lot going for it judging by its ratings - it is a bestseller in Europe. However, in my opinion, its main flaw lies first and foremost with its cover in which a woman's foot is suggestively riding up a man's trouser leg in an outdoor cafe. It is a cover that does not do justice to the story line, but in plain fact devalues it. This is a beautiful story with a very intelligent plot and in no need for such a gimmick. The book's cover is an unfortunate choice and misleading and seems to suggest a saucy read between its covers which is not only disappointing to the reader expecting them but in effect is as far from the reality of the book as possible. This is in fact a story where passion is compromised time and time again be it in Maravan's true passion for what he would like his cooking to do, or Andrea's passion for the call girl Makeda, and even business man Dalmann, with his accumulation of money and power, seems to lack the ability to experience passion. It seems that Martin Suter, whether purposefully or inadvertently, is trying to drive the point that in these times it seems that passion is a romantic notion consigned to the past to be ignored in these tough economic times. We do what we do to survive for if we don't do that, then others will.
There is a lot going on behind the scenes of this novel. 'The Chef' is a multi layered book, one of which is offering a glimpse into a segment of Swiss society rarely highlighted; that of the Tamil population. According to statics from 2008, the number of Tamils in Switzerland alone has reached 55,000. Although they have integrated to their full potential in the business sector, they remain a closed knit society holding on to its traditions, language and culture allowing very little, if any, influence to infiltrate from the hosting country. That is why it is quite refreshing to read the parts about Maravan's rituals upon entering his house, the Tamil festivals that he caters for and his relationship with the community of the diaspora particularly his relationship with Sandana, a first generation Swiss Tamil.
It is evident from the start that Maravan does not share the views of The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelan (LTTE) which makes Maravan's existence within the diaspora both difficult and suspicious. The LTTE are a powerful lot and it is apparent the amount of control they exert on people's lives and livelihoods, even resorting to blackmail in the case of Maravan, to secure the funds necessary for their fight against the Sri Lankan army in their homeland. Their path is not one Maravan believes in particularly with the knowledge of the LTTE 's recruitment of child soldiers. A fate he worries might be destined for his young 14-year-old nephew, Ulagu.
I did, on the whole, enjoy 'The Chef' although it did take a bit of a while to warm up to the characters. I cannot promise all of you will like it but one thing I can promise is this: if you are into cooking, as I am, then you are in for a gastronomic delight. The sections with Maravan preparing his magical dishes are mouth-watering. Although I have yet to try any of the recipes in the book that is not to say I am ruling out the possibility. Will keep you updated on that one!
For more on the author Martin Suter, click HERE
For more on the translator Jamie Bulloch, click HERE
Winnie Kraster is an American book blogger who has just received an invitation from the Romance Writers of Great Britain (RWGB) to attend their annual conference held in London. Author of blog 'Tallulah's Treasures' Winnie is over the moon regarding the invitation as validation of her rising status in the blogosphere and confirmation that her reviews have been taken seriously by her favourite writers Polly Penham and Morgana Blakely who are among the RWGB's membership committee. Unfortunately for Winnie, her happiness is short-lived as she is found murdered only a few hours after she lands in Heathrow airport.
And so cue a murder mystery that would be incomplete without a cast of colourful characters with big egos and even bigger secrets to hide. Welsh fifty-something author Cerys Pugh from Cardiff whose hate for Winnie's blog is outspoken and holds all bloggers in contempt. Archie Mears, the slim mid-thirties writer who refuses to speak of his past, has dark dreams, lives with a fear of being trapped by fire or water and whose poetic looks betray the fact that he would "strike back speedily and effectively if provoked". North London sensual romance writer Zena, and self-proclaimed "North London Goddess" interested in nature continuously burning incense at an altar, physically intimidating and who reveals in an interview that she is "not afraid to strike at someone or something that is holding her back". Polly Penham, a soft spoken, friendly writer who has found fame and fortune and is the envy of everyone but is known for her dramatic episodes and conspiracy theories. Morgana Blakely, self-absorbed president of the RWGB's organising committee who is used to always getting her way even if it means tweaking some truths here and there.
And then there is Emily Castles, our amateur sleuth, who is a free lancer working the odd job here and there and who reminded me of a slightly older Nancy Drew. Other than the fact that she had just completed a job in Canary Wharf (her comment on the elevators rings so true), that she lives in South London occasionally looking after her neighbour's cat when they are away and that she is at the conference to assist Morgana Blakely there is little more that we are told about her. Emily is a no-nonsense likeable twenty six year-old woman, with a dry sense of humour, sharp wit and an equally sharp eye for details. Helen Smith takes it for granted perhaps that readers would already be familiar with Castles from the Emily Castles Mysteries, which unfortunately I myself have not read. It is equally important to stress here that this in no way impacts or detracts from the story but is merely an observation on my part. It is also worth noting that 'Invitation to Die' is the first full-length book in the Emily Castles mystery series and it has just been published by Thomas & Mercer in paperback and as an ebook. Smith has already published two novellas in the series, Three Sisters and Showstoppers.
This short novel packs a rather long list of characters that Helen Smith manages to mix together in the most effortless way coming up with a very convincing plot. Every one is potentially a plausible suspect even if not part of the RWGB crowd such as the chocolatier Monsieur Cyril Loman owner of one of the most prestigious chocolate shops in Knightsbridge who cannot let go of what he has witnessed in his past life before seeking asylum in the UK at the age of fifteen. Hotel manager Nik Kovacevic's ambition is to prove his worth at his new job and therefore willing to do what it takes to please his superiors and secure a bigger promotion.
The novel is very entertaining, gripping and fast paced with laugh-out loud moments (my favourite was to do with Nik, chefs and pickles). My only wish was that it were longer. However, I have no doubt that 'Invitation to Die' will instigate many a discussion around the blogger vs author relationship, which if the retort is anything to go by can be quite fiery and challenging. Helen Smith has conjured up an imaginary scenario where she has tried for the sake of fairness to include representations of various characters from the literary world (writers, bloggers, publishers, etc) - hence the diverse and long list of characters - offering up an insight to what they might say or do when they have to spend an entire weekend together (it gave me the feeling of being a fly on the wall). But the story has a major advantage in the parts where it deals with why people write what they write (be it books or blogs), rituals of writing (Archie) and how to clear the mind for the creative process (Zena). There are lessons to be learnt there people.
Judgements, accusations, secrets and lies abound and yet this is one conference I'd love to attend provided I (the blogger) may be allowed to live to tell my tale.
Helen Smith is an English novelist and dramatist. She's a member of the Writers' Guild of Great Britain, English PEN and the Society of Authors. She lives in London. Check out her website 'The Emperor's Clothes' HERE.
The "Jinn Theory" is a novel that takes place in modern day Istanbul where main character Rafiq Reynard now lives and works. Born to an American father and Muslim mother, he grows up in America's 1960s where he feels he has completed "all the rites of passage required of his generation. That had included a deep sampling of the world's religious traditions". Stumbling upon sufism in the 1970s, Rafiq spends every last penny pouring over books written by sufi masters such as Ibn Arabi, Jami, al-Ghazali and others. He is hooked lock, stock and barrel "as though a leviathan has awakened in the depths of his soul and set his being on fire". Immersing himself in his new found Islam, Rafiq is "swept off his feet and into the most intense love affair of his life".
Rafiq eventually leaves California when he decides to take a job working at a bookshop in England. It is during his time there that he meets one of the most important characters in this novel, that of Khosro Mirza Isfahani and his roommate Gary Magnusson. This 'chance' encounter has a deep impact on Rafiq's life and is to change the course of his life forever in the process creating a life long friendship and eternal spiritual bonds. Two years later, at the insistence of Khosro, Rafiq is prompted to take up the ownership of a bookshop in Istanbul (where Khosro's sister lives with her husband). Twenty years later, he is still there and that is where we meet him at the beginning of the novel.
Ensconced in his now well-stocked antique shop, we find Rafiq puzzling over two particular incidents that have interrupted his well-established routine. Having kept to himself most of his life in Istanbul, living in "solitary abandonment of the world" with no wife or family, the fact that the neighbourhood residents seem to all of a sudden bring their woes to his door seems to truly threaten his sense of safety. He "wanted to pray and meditate and read, he wanted to spend his time collecting beautiful things and hopefully selling them to people who'd ... pay him enough to keep him safe and secure in the world". Although aware of certain changes taking place he is also aware that it is futile to try and fight these changes even if all he wants is to be left alone.
Rafiq also discovers that his previously held impressions of the neighborhood residents is proving to be a whole lot different than he had previously thought. From Selim the mosque guardian and his young warden Azami, to the baker Ramsay, the young migraine-suffering Suhayl and even Hamid and his wife (Khosro's sister). The addition of new residents Michaela, her young family and her in-laws Jamal Butalib and Eileen is another of the distractions that Rafiq thinks he can do well without. Unaware to everyone involved, their fates will be forever entwined.
A central character to this novel is Tursun Nourazar. A wise Sufi Sheikh of the highest order, he is the epitome of what defines Sufism as an ascetic, mystical Muslim sect which emphasises the direct personal experience of God. A childhood friend of Khosro, the part of the novel in which the author tells us the story of how these two characters meet their Jinn in 1950s Qom in Iran, who is responsible for their religious awakening, is one of the most beautiful parts of the book. Tursun has to be the most beautiful character in the book as well and it is through his teachings and interactions with the novel's characters that we get a good sense of what Sufism is about.
Throughout the novel, we find that the author Vlek leans towards the idea that Sufism relies on the direct relationship between God and his worshippers with no need for a mediary. She is intolerant of would-be religious sheikhs who demand the full subservience and conformity of their subjects quashing all attempts of personal rationale and critical examination, treating their subjects as lambs, who without experience, can easily be led. This is very apparent in all the characters of the novel and particularly of Suhayl whose experience with his own Sheikh (Dr. Hassan Abusalem) is highlighted in the story. The Sheikh has forbidden Suhayl to seek any medical treatment for his debilitating migraines and has ordered him to recite Quranic verses to cure him of his condition. Once Suhayl starts to question his sheikh, he is threatened with expulsion from the order.
The elements of Sufism are all there in the 'Jinn Theory'. The teacher, one that traces his succession to such a job back to the prophet Muhammed, (Khosro and Tursun), the signs to the Signifier (the coin in Rafiq's shoe and the crooked trumpet), and then there are the Jinn, spirits mentioned in the Quran who inhabit an unseen world beyond the universe of humans. They can be good or evil and hence have freewill just like humans. Vlek has chosen to depict them as spirits who although can reveal themselves to whomever they choose appearing in human form, it is only those who have an open mind and a spiritual tendency and readiness who will and can actually see them for what they truly are. And although the Jinn play a central role in each of the character's religious awakening, as Tursun makes apparent to Selim it is always only about the relationship between God and his worshippers regardless of whose assistance is sought to get there.
This is a novel that I enjoyed for its subject matter although in the beginning I must admit that I found it a bit difficult to connect with the characters and I am still unsure of the necessity of the plot regarding Michaela and her family. We know from the onset of the novel that a big huge change is coming that will rock the neighbourhood to its foundation and I am afraid that when the event did finally happen I was left with a sense of disappointment. The ending in my opinion was very idealistic and conflict-ridden and I was just expecting more. And yet, I think this book would make a for an excellent book club choice. Themes of pre-ordained destiny, good vs bad, and how religion and spirituality fit in with today's modern Islamic world are key topics, in addition to themes of family, friendship, love and belief. It is an excellent opportunity to learn more about this wonderful and mystical branch of Islam.
In Javier Marias' new book "The Infatuations", Diaz Varela says to main character Maria Dolz that "once you've finished a novel, what happened in it is of little importance and soon forgotten. What matters are the possibilities and ideas that the novel's imaginary plot communicates to us and infuses us with, a plot that we recall far more vividly than real events and to which we pay much more attention" and Aaron Vlek commands attention and I look forward to reading more from this author.
About the author:
American author Aaron Vlek completed an undergraduate degree at Sarah Lawrence College where she focused on Islamic history, the modern state of Iran and the central mystical saints of the middle ages. She also completed an additional close read of the works of several of the prominent ideologues of the last century and why their ideas have shaped the narratives that dominate the news today. Vlek is a convert of 35 years to moderate spiritual Islam and a peripheral student of Sufism.
Further reading: Idris Shah, Sufism
Black Mamba Boy is the compelling and stunning fictionalised account of author Nadifa Mohamed's father, Jama; a Somali born to a superstitious, resilient and loving mother, Ambaro and hardened dreamer father, Guure. The book starts in Aden, where Jama and his mother live a dismal life on the roof of some relatives' home who have agreed to take them in when Ambaro had moved to the city (from Somalia) to make a better life for herself and her son. With his father gone to find work in Sudan, Jama's constant yearning is to be re-united with him once more.
When Jama's mother dies he embarks on what can only be described as an epic journey searching for a father whose face he doesn't even know. The time is the 1930's and the setting is Africa where this illiterate, uneducated ten-year-old boy, barefoot most of the time, has to travel by train, lorry, camel and bus, on his own across lands that are barren blistering desert where the beginnings of a mass famine are taking root.
But Jama is one lucky boy, his luck in stark contrast to those around him. He survives captivity on an Italian compound held in a chicken pen like an animal only for his friend Shidane to die the most gruesome of deaths. He survives malaria when others perish and emerges dusty, disoriented and yet scratch-free when a bomb detonates at one of the Italian guard posts, with him the only survivor. In one instant Jama is land owner and rich and yet suddenly he is a sailor aboard the ill-fated 1947 Exodus ship mingling with Holocaust survivors. At one point imprisoned by the Egyptians, he even manages to save the life of a Lebanese driver. But for all Jama's luck it is on the night he is finally to be re-united with his father, the man of his dreams, that his luck faces its biggest challenge.
Black Mamba Boy is a beautifully written book full to the brim with mysticism interlaced with brutal reality. The book definitely depicts the harsh political, economic and social hardships East Africa's people and those of the neighbouring countries in the region were having to face at the time Jama went in search of his father. But Nadifa Mohamed's main interest lies not in dissecting these circumstances or laying blame, in fact the harshness of the book is in its reality and unapologising attitude. The message is clear: this is what Jama had to deal with and this is what he had to do to survive. My tip would be to read a little about the history of Somalia and Eritrea particularly to get a better grasp of the effects of British and Italian presence in the region and how it translated in the daily life of the people in East Africa.
There are many stations that exude beauty, lyricism and astounding writing from the author and I found the first pages of the book to be the most magical and powerful. Throughout the book themes of exodus and a search of a promised land are very dominant and particularly evident in the manner that Mohamed chooses to end her book. The ending did seem a bit rushed and I am quite mildly surprised that since its publication in 2009 there hasn't been a sequel. But who knows?
In the end, this may be a story about a boy in search of his father but it is most certainly to do with a girl who believes her father is "the real hero, not the fighting or romantic kind but the real deal, the starved child that survives every sling and arrow that shameless fortune throws at them, and who can sit back and tell the stories of all the ones that didn't make it." This girl promised to be her father's griot and has well and truly succeeded!