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?
I’ve been following your blog for a while now – my family and I are in the process of moving to ‘Africa’ (can’t give too many details yet) so I’ve been really enjoying and been challenged by a lot of the posts I’ve read in your TCK series. And I don’t usually comment on blog posts, but just read your post about what you learned in 2013 and how much you like comments, and then I read you blog about books published in 2013 and I had to add to your list!
This Is Where I Am, by Karen Campbell (Mar 2013)
About a Somali refugee who is relocated to Glasgow, Scotland, and the relationship he forges with his Scottish mentor.
Brilliant read, took a while to interpret some of the Scottish language (!!), and she has a bit of an unusual style, but a really good read. Only criticism is her swahili isn’t quite right! It also challenged my thinking about Kenya and the way refugees are treated (married to a Kenyan, spent a lot of time there – it’s home as much as my passport country – Australia), and it’s about a non-violent/kidnapping/pirate Somali!
Hope you get a chance to read it.
Great to hear from you :O) and thank you so much for the addition! I haven’t heard of that one but will look it up now for sure, it sounds good. Interesting what you say about the Swahili, I have felt that way in almost every book about Somalis, about the language. Except the ones written BY a Somali, of course.
I’ve read the Somalis in MN book and it was really helpful in providing more background on the culture and some of their experiences in being in the US and getting to the US. It isn’t a 2013 book, but The Somali Pirate Trilogy is a historical fictional first person point of view on the Somali pirate issue.
That pirate trilogy sounds interesting, I’ll check it out. Thanks!
No new books to add, but The Insanity of God was one of my ‘favorite’ reads of 2013. So much pain, such dedication by the author and his family. HIS hand overshadowing it all.
[…] The news can provide plenty of drama about the Horn of Africa region, and bestselling books like A House in the Sky and movies like Captain Phillips contribute as well. But my Somali neighbors and friends are pretty […]
Thank you Rachel for showing immense enthusiasm to learn about our culture. Only three books in the list are actually written by Somalis. The rest are by foreigners who look at our country with ‘western’ eyes. They make too many wrong assumptions.
Most of these writers, unlike you Rachel, rarely make an effort to learn our language, to read our rich poetry and to listen to our music. They misspell Somali words, they misinterpret the happenstances in which they find themselves and they are too thirsty to compare our situation with the one back at their homes, historical and cultural differences notwithstanding.
These writers are too confident to consider themselves ‘experts’ in matters concerning the Horn of Africa, despite their limited knowledge about the place. ‘A House in the Sky’ is so popular because the authors put in more effort to understand the complexity of Somalia; they spell many of the Somali names and phrases right and they look at our people with passionate eyes, or so it seems. Amanda tries to portray her captors not just as mere devils but rather as humans with feelings; humans who sometimes sympathize with those whom they hold in hostage. Like other books about the Horn of Africa, ‘A House in the Sky’ has its own weaknesses, but I like parts of the book.
Really good point Asad, about them being written mostly by non-Somalis. I’ve got a post ready for next week that will show many more BY Somalis – like Farah and Waris Dirie, a couple novels…I did notice some mistakes in A House in the Sky and some things that bugged me, but it is for sure a gripping, tragic story. I think this is why I liked Keeping Hope Alive so much – by a Somali and so powerful. I’m curious – what do a lot of Somalis think about A House in the Sky? Would love to hear you expand on what you’ve written here.