2013 saw a number of books published about the Horn of Africa region. I haven’t read them all yet, am slowly working my way through. My criteria for including a book on this list was it had to be about: Djibouti, Somalia, Somaliland, or Somalis in the diaspora. (all images via amazon)

A House in the Sky: A Memoir by Amanda Lindhout
Lindhout’s terrifying hostage ordeal in southern Somalia is beautifully chronicled by she and co-author Sara Corbett. This is the most mainstream and well-written book on this list. I always wish, when reading books like this, that there could be a different story told about Somalis. A story of hope and love and life, not one from an outsider’s tortured perspective. Slowly, slowly (tartiib, tartiib) those stories are coming but in all honesty, until Somalis stop taking hostages and stop killing each other and stop hijacking ships, there will likely also be more books like this. This was an excellent read.


This book also chronicles a hostage ordeal, of Jessica Buchanan, and the secret Navy Seal operation that rescued her. The story is also dramatic and gripping, but the writing is not of the same standard as A House in the Sky. Part of me wondered if perhaps Jessica needed a bit more space and time between her experience and the writing of this book. Sometimes she seems to still be angry and bitter, which she has a right to feel, but which can make a book seem like a vendetta more than a gift of words. And again, it is hard to read books like this from the perspective of an outsider who has little to no understanding of Somali culture or language, little context.

Keeping Hope Alive: One Woman: 90,000 Lives Changed by Dr. Hawa Abdi

This is it, this is the book I’ve been wanting to read. A well-written book from an insider’s point of view. Hawa Abdi is a heroine, a woman of courage and sacrifice, Somali through and through, and her book is a powerful testament to the strength of love and integrity. I would love to meet this woman in person someday, to hear her stories firsthand. This is the book I recommend the most highly on this list. Read it, know that Somalis are so much more than pirates and kidnappers, and be inspired.


The Insanity of God: A True Story of Faith Resurrected by Nik Ripken

This book is the personal story of a family who moved to Somalia to share their faith, lost a son, endured hardship, and nearly lost their faith as well. It is the story of a man, a husband, a father, who battles through grief and confusion in an attempt to understand the goodness and plan of God.



The Pirates of Somalia: Inside Their Hidden World by Jay Bahadur. Okay, this wasn’t published in 2013 but it is still a good book. Fascinating look into the lives and realities and causes and implications of Somali piracy. I listened to it as an audiobook.





Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth (Mouthmark) by Warsan Shiire

This is a pretty, um, spicy book of poetry. Vivid imagery, blunt honesty, and fascinating cultural insights.





And now we are entering the territory of books I have not read yet.

A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea by Richard Philips and Stephan Talty

Somali pirates, Navy Seals, and dangerous days at sea. I saw the movie in New York, which I’ve heard follows the book pretty closely, as it well should since it is based on true events.

The Invisible Girls: A Memoir by Sarah Thebarge

Another memoir, but this one by an American woman who befriends a Somali woman in Portland, Oregon. I have not read this yet but have the audiobook loaded on my phone and as soon as I finish my current Dani Shapiro (Devotion), I’ll start it.

Somalis in Minnesota (People Of Minnesota) by Ahmed I. Yusuf

Technically published in 2012 (but late, December) but I only received this book in the mail in June 2013 so I’m including it anyway. I haven’t had a chance to read it all yet but I am looking forward to this.

The Night Ranger (John Wells Series Book 7) by Alex Berenson

This novel has four Americans hijacked and held hostage (noticing any themes here?) while working at a Somali refugee camp in northern Kenya. John Wells, a former CIA deep-cover agent, is sent to rescue them.

Any books I missed? Have you read any of these? Care to offer a review?