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Review: ‘The Mayor of Mogadishu,’ by Andrew Harding

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BBC foreign correspondent Andrew Harding’s book “The Mayor of Mogadishu” opens with an arresting scene: An attack by the militant group Al-Shabab is underway at a mosque in the Somali capital’s government compound. Worshipers are jostling toward the exit. Only one man still kneels in prayer, apparently oblivious to the mayhem unfolding around him.

That man is the book’s complicated subject, Mohamud “Tarzan” Nur, a Somali expat who served as Mogadishu’s mayor in the early 2000s, as the city edged out of Al-Shabab’s control and into a state of fragile near-normalcy. Through the story of a man who took one of the world’s most dangerous political gigs, Harding traces the turbulent modern history of Somalia — a place where the author dodges bullets, discovers remarkable resiliency and glimpses striking beauty amid the ruins of the onetime “Pearl of the Indian Ocean.”

Through elegant writing and dogged reportage, Harding sets out to introduce Nur, a man steeped in contradictions and controversy.

In a sense, Harding tackles a mystery: Is Nur a brave and principled patriot or a charismatic opportunist with a carefully crafted public persona?

One of the first stories Nur shares with the author — that his mother delivered him in Room 18 of a beachfront hospital ­­— turns out to be a lie. In fact, he was born under a tree in the nomadic Ogaden region and grew up in a gritty Mogadishu orphanage, where he earned his nickname after sneaking out a window and swinging from a tree.

Before his homeland descended into civil war, Nur left for Saudi Arabia in search of opportunity. He eventually settled in London with his young family.

In 2000, he returned to Mogadishu to take the mayoral job, tapped for it as the self-described “leader of the diaspora.” There, Nur proved adept at restoring a measure of normalcy and eluding Al-Shabab attacks. He was somewhat less adept at dodging the capital’s relentless mudslinging, clan politics and questions about government corruption.

Nur, who is now running for president of Somalia, insists he is an open book. His trademark phrase echoes the recent U.S. presidential election: “Believe me.” But he remains guarded and slightly aloof, and that’s Harding’s main storytelling challenge throughout.

As is often the case with nonfiction whose tough-skinned main subjects never quite open up, the book can leave some readers wanting more. But Harding perseveres, filling in gaps in our understanding thanks to Nur’s likable wife, Shamis, and a brother living in Indiana.

Harding also assembles a strong cast of supporting characters — fellow expats who in recent years have flocked back home to help rebuild, get a taste of adventure and make money. Even as Nur remains a bit of a mystery in Harding’s book, a fascinating, guardedly optimistic portrait of contemporary Somalia comes into sharp focus.

Source: Star Tribune
Mila Koumpilova covers issues of immigration for the Star Tribune.

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Novels my way to respond in measured way: Nadifa Mohamed

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Somali author Nadifa Mohamed says she is constantly enraged by conflicts and unrest across the globe and the only way she can calm herself and contribute anything meaningful is responding in a measured way through her novels.

“There has to be respect for human life that you don’t let people die. That’s the line you don’t cross. And I feel that this line has been crossed,” she rues.

“I am very aware of how much the present situation, present fears have impacted my ability to respond in any kind of measured way. And the only way I can respond in a measured way is through fiction and my novel,” London-based Mohamed, who was in India recently for the Jaipur Literature Festival, told PTI.

“I am constantly enraged by the news of conflicts, atrocities and unrest and the only way I can calm myself and contribute anything meaningful is through my novels written after adequate research,” she says.

According to Mohammed, economic depressions like the Great Recession always bring out the most violent, most irrational responses politically.

“That’s what we are seeing, we are seeing it in the West, we are seeing it in the Muslim world, we are seeing it in too many places. The underlying reasons have been there for long and probably they are recurring. The recent energy behind the conflicts we are seeing, the instability we are seeing may be due to the gratuity loss,” she says.

Mohamed, a Granta best young British novelist, is working on her third novel which is about miscarriage of justice and deals with a murder case from the 1950s. “The book has been in my mind for about 10 years. I intended it to be a very short and tight novel but it is now almost 600 pages long.

It is very, very historical. It has got real life characters,” she says.

For her, what becomes a novel is something that gets under her skin. “It might be personal too. I have written a lot about my family or something that relates to a feeling I have had for a long period of time.”

She thinks she has been getting deeper and deeper in trying to understand what people have been talking about constantly discrimination, justice, migration, self-identity.

“So I think the novel is still precious for that. There is no other way I know that you sit with someone, you sit with the story for days and days and really absorb it. I am not convinced that I have as much as of a transformative effect on the reader but it just grabs a more meaningful attention from them than anything else that I can think of,” says Mohammed, who was born in the Somali city of Hargeisa in 1981 while Somalia was falling deeper into dictatorship.

In 1986, she moved to London with her family in what she thought was a temporary move but a couple of years later it became permanent as war broke out in Somalia.

Her father’s stories were the basis of her debut novel “Black Mamba Boy”.

Mohammeds next work “The Orchard of Lost Souls”, set in Hargeisa, is the story of three women – nine-year-old Deqo, an orphan born and raised in the Saba’ad refugee camp; Kawsar, a well-off widow in her 50s whose late husband was the city’s chief of police before the public offices were purged; and Filsan, an ambitious young soldier in her late 20s.

On migration of authors to other countries, she says, I have noticed that many writers, not surely they are refugees, but they have moved either a lot or one big time in their childhood. So there must be something to do with leaving one world behind and entering a new world at a very formative age that enables or switches on the writer’s mind.

On the writing and publishing scene in Somaliland, she says, “I could still write and I could have published but the platform would be very different. The industry is Somaliland is in its very early stages. Selling is a problem there but it is also not so easy in the US and the UK either.

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4th Grade Somali American Teacher Pens Children’s Book For Somali Youth

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WCCO – CBS Minnesota — Mariam Mohamed said she wrote “Ayeeyo’s Golden Rule” because there weren’t many books for Somali children to read and see characters who look like them

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‘Adua’: A New Novel Reflects on the Colonial Legacy of Italy and Somalia

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An atmosphere of unrest has dominated so much of our public discourse as of late. The uncertainty over the future of DACA recipients has sent shock-waves of anxiety throughout our immigrant communities. And a renewed emphasis on patriotism and protest has reignited longstanding debates over what it means to be an American.

While these might seem like quintessential questions of the American “culture wars,” these issues of identity and society are felt deeply across the remnants of the colonial world, where Western nations continue to grapple with the historical repercussions of displaced populations.

Italy is a prime example of imperialism’s ongoing legacy, where hundreds of thousands of African migrants have looked to as a point of entry to a new life in Europe. But while the burdens of the migrant crisis have strained Italy’s ability to define what it means to be Italian, the uptick in refugees has revealed long-simmering wounds in the post-colonial social fabric.

Novelist and journalist Igiaba Scego is a second generation Italian born to Somali immigrants. Her new novel, “Adua,” puts into stark focus Somalia’s relationship with Italy, in a narrative that spans three distinct time periods, from the 1930s to the present day.

This segment is hosted by Todd Zwillich

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