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Black Mamba Boy by Nadifa Mohamed

Nadifa Mohamed’s debut novel, Black Mamba Boy, is set in 1930s Somalia. The novel charts one boy’s long walk to freedom through dangerous, conflict-ridden East Africa, based on the true story of the author’s father’s life. 

Jama’s mother Ambaro is a strong woman who maintains her pride as she is left to look after Jama while her husband Guure leaves for Sudan in the hope of earning more money. With Jama left to roam the streets most days it’s no surprise he gets into a few fights, scavenging for food and sleeping under the stars, while his relationship with his mother has its ups and downs. Jama’s journey however begins when his mother dies and he is sent to live with relatives but has his mind made up he wants to find his father in Sudan.

By the middle of the book Jama has only reached 11 years old, quickly having to grow up and become a man with much of his journey made alone. These are times when the Italians, the French and the British conquered fragments of East Africa which is swarmed by various cultures and religions, the Jewish, the Yemeni, the Arabs, the Nubians, the Abyssinian and this perhaps is the only atmospheric description that draws any interest to me. 

To say Nadifa Mohamed’s story-telling skills are comparable with those of Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, is a travesty.  The former writes with convoluted long sentences best described in Jackie’s review, the latter writes with simple and moving prose which is easy to the eyes and emotion runs deep. Despite Nadifa succeeding in creating a strong sense of place against which the characters live out their lives and their stories, the overdose of such prose leaves me feeling like a camel struck by a sandstorm, with constant in-your-face bombardment of frivolous words (sand). It made me lose sight of the plot and flow required for me to continue my journey in the desert. 

Rating: 2/5 

I really genuinely wanted to finish the book. I picked up and dropped it back to the TBR pile for more than twice despite encouragement from my husband. By the third time and half way through the book, I told myself enough is enough. I got the synopsis and the conclusion from my husband and returned the book to the library before I even started writing the review. 

I planned to read this for Animal Challenge, I suppose the Mamba will not be joining the hall of fame with the rest of my animal title read. I am even surprised it got long listed for Orange Prize 2010. So when Jackie mentioned that she didn’t find Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver all that appealing, I dropped the book like hot potato and returned both books, Lacuna and Black Mamba boy back to the library! 😉  

Paperback. Publisher: HarperCollins 2010; Length: 280 pages; Setting: 1930’s Somali, Yemen, Ethiopia and Sudan. Source: Library Loot. Abandoned mid-way at: 4 June 2010.

About the writer: 

Nadifa Mohamed was born in Hargeisa, Somalia in 1981 and was educated in the UK, studying History and Politics at St. Hilda’s College, Oxford. She lives in London and is currently working on her second novel. 😉


About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.


3 thoughts on “Black Mamba Boy by Nadifa Mohamed

  1. It sounds as though we had a very similar reading experience with this book! I love the way you describe this as being like a camel struck by a sandstorm!! Very true. It is such a shame as I think the story is wonderful.

    Posted by Jackie (Farm Lane Books) | June 8, 2010, 6:25 pm
  2. Jackie, It’s such a shame. Because I genuinely want to like it. But the flow wasn’t there. Life is too short to labour through books which I can’t get into them. 😉

    Posted by JoV | June 8, 2010, 8:32 pm


  1. Pingback: What an Animal Reading Challenge III Wrap Up Post « Bibliojunkie - February 27, 2011

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City

JoV's favorite books »
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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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