A fluid, sympathetic journalistic foray into the tumultuous history of Somalia as lived by an intriguing impresario and activist.
Riven over the decades by clan divisions, famine, military coups, dictatorship, and terror by the jihadi group Al-Shabaab, Somalia has seen much of its population displaced and traumatized and only now returning to some peace and stability. In his engaging biography of one unlikely local hero, Mohamud “Tarzan” Nur, Johannesburg-based journalist Harding follows the fortunes of one family of exiles who have returned to the war-scarred capital of Mogadishu to stick it out and reclaim their city from a horrible legacy of civil war. With elegant descriptions, Harding brings this East African coastal country to vivid life, depicting a sun-drenched “pearl of the Indian Ocean” made up of tall, slender nomads whom he found “impossibly, jaw-droppingly resilient” in the face of decades of hardship and violence. The author hones in on Nur, who was born to a poor mother, fatherless, raised in an orphanage, found some outlet as a youth in basketball, and was educated largely by his wits. His outspokenness and the Somalian war with Ethiopia over the neighboring Ogaden region prompted him first to seek employment in Saudi Arabia. His bride, Shamis, followed for love, and the couple had six children, whom Shamis mostly raised by herself after seeking asylum in London without her husband. The family eventually returned to their homeland in 2010 when the Al-Shabaab terrorist group finally left the city. Courageously—or foolishly, as Harding suggests—Nur accepted the dangerous job of mayor and proceeded to try to infuse the destroyed city with his jaunty brand of optimism. While corruption still prevails, Harding reveals enormous goodwill in the beleaguered people who have returned to rebuild their beloved country.
A beautifully rendered narrative and characterization portrays the soul of a country few Westerners truly understand.