Posted by: biblioglobal | November 12, 2015

Somalia: Black Mamba Boy (Book-from-every-country #72)

Black Mamba Boy by Nadifa MohamedI wasn’t planning on counting Black Mamba Boy by Nadifa Mohamed as my Somalia book. After all, most of the book is set in other countries- Yemen, Eritrea, Egypt, the UK, and more. I just happened to come across a copy in a used book store after reading and admiring an excerpt by Mohamed in Granta magazine. As I read, I decided to count it after all.

I’d already read Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali and not counted it for the same reason of mostly being set outside of Somalia. So for one thing, my project of reading a book from every country is enough of a challenge, I don’t need to make it harder on myself than necessary! The other thing is that it actually says something about Somalia that many Somali books involve travel outside of the country. There’s been huge amounts of emigration thanks to the civil wars there. Plus the Somalis are traditionally nomadic and seafaring people.

Black Mamba Boy takes place in the WWII era, well before the strife that most of us in the U.S. associate with Somalia. It tells the story of Jama, Black Mamba Boy, as he struggles to find a place to thrive and to find his absent father. First he’s living on the streets of Aden in Yemen, then with his grandmother in Somalia. Then he sets out to find his father and has a series of unlikely adventures in Eritrea and Egypt. And Sudan. And Ethiopia. And Egypt some more. And Israel/Palestine. And England.

I felt like the book was just one crazy, unlikely event after another, without ever really getting to understand the main character. It made a bit more sense when I learned after finishing the book that it is a fictionalized version of the life of the author’s father. I could easily picture the exaggerated tales of a father remembering his eventful youth coming together to turn into this book. Maybe if I had known that to start with, I would have appreciated the book more. Since I liked Mohamed’s writing in Granta, I’m also guessing I would like her second novel, which isn’t trying to to be semi-biographical, better.


  1. I can understand the dilemma of “counting” a book! This year I was weighing whether to count Everything Is Illuminated as Ukraine or not, since the author is American, but most of the book is set in Ukraine, and it made me research more about the country and the real life village it is set in and the history, so I thought that’s good enough. It doesn’t mean that I can’t read more when I find something “more Ukraine”, and I can update my list too :).

    • Yes! I meant to mention that I can always go back and read more! And in Somalia’s case, I still want to read something by Nruddin Farah and there’s also a non-fiction book set in Somalia I’ve got on my reading list. I try to seek out authors (especially for fiction) who are from the country in question, but I made my ‘rules’ such that I don’t have to.

      • Yes me too I try to seek out authors who are from the country, but in this day and age I think it’s often made more complicated by people’s migration so the author may be born and raised somewhere else but have strong personal connection and history with their parents’ or ancestor’s country. I would think that counts for something. So I guess my point is that I have a few factors when considering a book 🙂 (like yourself it seems).

  2. I know what you mean by trying not to count a book against a country when it is set in multiple countries. I’ve gone back and forth on this definition, though my current stand is to assign a book to the country that the book most “feels like”. That would be very subjective though.

    • Maybe it’s good just to embrace the subjectivity!

  3. This sounds really interesting. And I don’t have a Somalia book for the Travel the World in Books Challenge so maybe I can count this as Somalia, too. 🙂

    • There a lot of good options for Somalia- this book, books by Nruddin Farah, Infidel. Those are just the ones I happen to know about!

  4. A book from every country – means for me it’s a book of an author from that country. If th author decides to write about another country, it’s still the country’s book. Otherwise you’d have to cross out most of fantasy/science fiction from the country’s representation because msot often it’s set somewhere else, like space or another world.

    If American writes about Ukraine – it’s still American book. Even if I’ll write a book about Indonesia, it’ll be still Polish book. I won’t turn into Indonesian, even if I live for half of my life there.

    • That’s a good point about sci-fi/fantasy. BiblioBoyfriend and I were half jokingly discussing a “book-from-every-planet” project to go with the book-from-every-country project. Just for the planets in our solar system though!

  5. Another cool author to look at with respect to Somalia is Diriye Osman. His short stories collection ‘Fairytales for Lost Children’ has a good number of the stories set in Somalia (as well as Kenya and London).
    Happy New Year! 🙂

    • Thanks for the suggestion! I hadn’t heard of him. It sounds like he follows the pattern of Somali writing being set in many countries!

      • Yeah. I think Somalis do this because of the instability and civil war in their nation. So most people live in other nations, just to survive, hence their writing being set in many countries. Well, that’s what I’ve realized.

  6. Great to come across a fellow literary nomad! Some very interesting books and reviews on your list which I may use for my own round the world journey which started in 2009 and is, I reckon, about two thirds of the way through. I have a website with read and ‘to read’ books listed at – feel free to drop by my website 🙂

    • I have actually visited your website, but I must have neglected to leave a comment. Thanks for stopping by! Your journey is so impressive- covering territories and regions within countries. I also enjoy your descriptions of travel between the countries!

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