The Orchard of Lost Souls by Nadifa Mohamed

nadifa mohamed

Nadifa Mohamed’s second novel, The Orchard of Lost Souls seemed promising from the start. To be honest, opening with a quote from Sojourner Truth’s Aint I a Woman? was always going to bode well with me. Thrust right into the midst of action (or in medias res for my fellow nerdy types) as the revolution takes hold and Somalia begins its descent into civil war, the novel chronicles the lives of three Somali women, Kawsar, Filsan and Deqo. Inextricably linked by pain and loss, Mohamed’s choice to focus on the everyday lives of these women, with conflict as the backdrop feels a refreshing and much needed alternative to the usual (and tired) war/ terrorist/ pirate centred rhetoric we are usually presented with. Instead Mohamed has created an inherently female book that gives voice to the personal histories  of Somali women through a narrative that is not polemical, but tender and nuanced. In a place bereft of men, Mohamed treats her female characters with a sensitivity and sense of reverence that shows how much her writing has matured since her debut. Her language is adorned with Somalian culture and cadence and the passages about the violence feel painful, laden with memories of what once was and how quickly it unravelled. Because Somalia’s story is a sad one. A beautiful coastal land seized by European colonisers, ruined by civil war, ‘failed state’ status and warring tribal and religious factions, yet in this history of power struggles between men, one thing has remained consistent; and that is the unbending endurance of Somali women. And for me, that is what makes this novel so vital. As many future (and current) generations of Somalians from across the diaspora grow up away from their homeland, stories like Mohamed’s play an important role in forging a connection and awareness of the often overlooked lives of women such as these. Whilst the symmetry of Mohamed’s tale is perhaps a little too tidy trope of fiction writing, it is the strength, dignity and resilience of her characters that will make you crumble in what is a crucial and insightful book.

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