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by Nadifa Mohamed

Pub Date: March 4th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-374-20914-8
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Mohamed (Black Mamba Boy, 2010) takes on the Somali civil war of the late 1980s with the intersecting stories of three women: the elderly widow of a former police commissioner opposed to the authoritarian regime; an ambitious army officer trying to meet her military father’s expectations; and a 9-year-old orphan living by her wits.

Deqo is in a group of children set to dance at a military celebration in Hargeisa in northern Somalia, but when she forgets her steps, the women in charge beat her. Elderly Kawsar, who has attended the festivities with reluctance, rushes to help the child. As Deqo runs away, Kawsar is arrested. Unfortunately, Filsan, the officer in charge of interrogating Kawsar, has just been humiliated after refusing the sexual advances of a senior officer, and she takes out her fury on Kawsar. Coming home to her close-knit neighborhood unable to walk, Kawsar dreams about her daughter, who committed suicide as an adolescent after being abused by soldiers. When the government’s battle against the insurgents intensifies, Kawsar’s best friend tries to convince her to leave, but Kawsar stubbornly refuses and ends up alone in the abandoned neighborhood. Having run away after Kawsar’s intervention, Deqo ends up living on the streets until she is taken under the wing of a local prostitute. Deqo thinks she has found some semblance of protection, but when the prostitute leaves town, Deqo realizes she’s been sold to a pimp and bolts. Meanwhile, Filsan struggles to find her place as a woman in the military. Mohamed does not shy away from showing Filsan’s capacity for brutality as well as her vulnerability as a lonely, morally confused woman. She and her captain begin a tentative if doomed relationship before the rebels’ strength begins to overwhelm government forces, and the three heroines face final challenges.

Despite some strained coincidental connections, Mohamed creates three memorable characters and makes the experience of what it was (and remains) like to live through the chaos of Somalia’s dystopia disturbingly real.