Black Mamba Boy by Nadifa Mohamed

Black Mamba Boy is the debut novel by Nadifa Mohamed, recounting her father’s extraordinary journey through parts of East Africa and the Middle East on his quest to find family and prosperity. Set over a period of twelve years from 1935-1947, it was interesting to read about a world in the midst of change and the colonial campaigns still very much active in those regions, particularly in Eritrea where Mohamed writes that ‘Indian and Italian killed each other over African soil.’ I would however, liked to have delved a little deeper into this and read more about the personal effects on Jama, the main protagonist, who shares little personal or emotional insights throughout the book. Whilst the novel itself is very enjoyable and Mohamed’s writing style is rhythmic and strong which make for an easy read; to me the book, at times, felt somewhat trapped between autobiography and historical fiction, but this is only a minor limitation. What is instead an overwhelming feature is Mohamed’s love for her personal history and the need to tell this story ‘because no-one else will’. Her evocation of the horn of Africa (albeit at times acqueiscing to romantic stereotypes) comprising of deserts-‘the birthplaces of prophets’ and wealthy houses with courtyards filled with ‘bougainvillea and purple hibiscus’ as well as bustling lively cities was a joy to read. The rich and diverse cultures and people living together in relative harmony is a far cry from the fractured images we see today, particularly of Somalia. Black Mamba Boy is a story of considerable hope and survival but at its heart, this is a novel of change. Running parallel to this post war world in change is Jama, charting the journey from boyhood to maturity, loss to love and like so many after him who ‘make their footprints in the sand’ they would ‘pack up their bags and move like nomads over Africa and Europe, discovering new worlds’.

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