An artfully spare first novel about a coming-of-age boy's flight from the squalor of his East African coastal home. Hassan Omar lives in Kenge, a collecting point for ""toilers and failures."" His family, long annealed to poverty and suffering, is held together less by a blood bond than by a mutual need to torment one another. Hassan's twin brother has died in a bizarre fire tragedy, and the family silently faults Hassan as the cause; his father beats his mother; a younger sister turns slatternly to flout convention--and destroys herself in the process. Meanwhile, Hassan plots escape via final exams and, he hopes, enrollment at a foreign university. But his parents have no money, scholarships have dried up, and so he's pointed in the direction of a wealthy uncle from Nairobi. Once in Nairobi, Hassan cautiously waltzes around his self-made uncle Ahmed and Ahmed's daughter Salma in the hopes of extracting some vital tuition funds, and almost enjoys playing the back-alley cousin to Ahmed's role as big-city power, broker. But Hassan quickly realizes that Ahmed has no intention of coming up with the scratch; and when Ahmed detects an attraction between Hassan and Salma, he tosses the boy out onto the streets. Returning home in shame, Hassan almost resigns himself to Kenge and a state of mediocrity before--what does he have to lose?--he screws up his courage, signs up for work on a ship, and flees, tougher but also wiser. Capturing the tart aftertaste of recollection, this brief but deftly handled work promises more good things to come.