It is 1988 and Somalia is on the brink of a civil war. In the city of Hargeisa, the revolution is stirring but the dictatorship is holding on to power at all costs. Change is coming and the country will fall, as witnessed by three very different women.
Nine-year-old Deqo was born in a refugee camp, left behind by her mother. Lured to the city by the promise of her first pair of shoes, she decides it is best to leave the camp and fend for herself. Kawsar has lost both her husband and daughter and is living out her days in her little house with a garden. But a savage beating at the local police station has now left her confined to her bed. Filsan is a promising young soldier who has been sent to Hargeisa from Mogadishu to suppress the growing rebellion. She wants to follow in her father's footsteps but life in the military can be tough for a woman.
As the country plunges into war, the lives of these three women become intertwined and their lives are changed forever. The Orchard of Lost Souls by Nadifa Mohamed is a beautiful novel about ordinary people in a volatile time. Named of one Granta’s “Best of Young British Novelists” in 2013, Mohamed has given us another stunning work, cementing herself as one of Somalia’s bright voices.
I loved Black Mamba Boy, for which Mohamed was long listed for the Orange Prize, so I was thrilled to see another book coming out. Her writing is incredible and the stories she tells are ones that generally aren’t in our sights but should be. I love books that have a historical element, that help us to better understand the current plight of people around the world far beyond what the newspaper tell us. This one does just that.
The book starts with a scene in which all three women are first connected, then branches out to tell the women’s stories individually. At the end, the women are connected again, unaware of their shared past. Each woman will tug on your heart, whether you like them or not, and make you understand the beauty and pain that exists in a country at war with itself. Deqo was the strongest voice to me, the one who truly captured the loss and volatility of the country. But this isn’t just a book about war, it is about relationships, the same ones being formed and lived out everywhere in the world. Conflict exists everywhere, and not just between groups or people, but within ourselves and that is all captured in this novel.
This is a tough book to read. We are privileged to live in a place that is secure and stable. We all know that isn’t the case for many around the world today. You can look at the news and photos coming out of places like Syria and feel your heart break for the people who live through it but you can never truly know what it is like. I’m not saying a book can give you that knowledge, but it can paint a broader picture for you. It can introduce you to the emotions within. It can show you the courage, strength, and determination of the people. This book does that. It gives emotion to the faces you see on television. It gives a voice to the many people who live from one day to the next with war all around them. Women are often the unseen during war but in this book they are front and centre and rightfully so.
Nadifa Mohamed is deserving of the praise she is being given. For a writer of any age she is gifted and talented and must be read. I know that Somalia has many more stories to be told and that Mohamed will be the one to bring them to us.