Jama is a naive market boy who travels from Yemen to Somalia to Djibouti to Eritrea to Sudan to Egypt to Palestine and eventually to Britain before he tries to make his way back home. Oops, I guess I should have given a spoiler’s alert.
I’ll start over. It’s 1935 and we are in Yemen where we meet a ten year old Somali boy, Jama, whose father left when he was a baby to go and make a living in Sudan. But then, his mother dies and he’s truly all alone, and he decides he’s going to find his father, on his own. It is one long walk to freedom over the course of many years. There are several harrowing scenes in the novel that made me uncomfortable. Many had to do with the portrayals of Mussolini’s men, the Italians, in the Horn of Africa who are portrayed as cruel especially in their revelry in inflicting pain randomly on the native people.
Nadifa Mohammed’s debut novel Black Mamba Boy is actually a semi-biographical novel based on the life of the her father. She has said that “the novel grew out of a desire to learn more about my roots, to elucidate Somali history for a wider audience and to tell a story that I found fascinating”.
It was an interesting read for me as I don’t know much about Somali history. It was also fascinating to see how the European Second “World” War affected the peoples of East Africa. I would definitely consider reading her second novel.