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.
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. 😉