10 Books about the Horn of Africa Published in 2013

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?

Legacy of a Nobody: Annalena Tonelli

annalena tonelliAnnalena Tonelli was shot in the head and killed on October 5, 2003.

Please take 26 minutes and watch this incredible documentary about the 33 years she spent loving Somalis.

This film was particularly moving to Tom and I. Beautiful scenes in Boroma of places we recognize, reminiscing about ten years ago. With Annalena’s murder, our lives in Somalia began to unravel.

(In the scenes where she is speaking into a bus if you look real careful you might see my husband’s reflection in the bus window. That was the first day he met her.)

The documentary was produced and directed by our good friend Matt Erickson (also seen in the bus window reflection).

Annalena was a beautiful woman with deep compassion, vision, purpose, and love. The movie does a wonderful job displaying this but it is also a powerful testament to the strength, vitality, joy, and courage of the Somali people she worked with as they have continued and expanded her work.

The movie shows hardship but also beauty, disease and medical progress, violence and those who fight for peace. One of my favorite scenes is of two women pounding grain together – hard work and they are laughing. This is Somalia, Somaliland. So much stronger than al-Shabaab, so much more enduring than famine and terrorism.

*update: this week marks 11 years since her murder. No one has been arrested or accused.

How to Speak Somali Without Saying a Word

I’m not Somali, I’m a Somali-language learner. I relied heavily on Colloquial Somali in my early years. I’m bound to make mistakes in the following post. Please feel free to correct me but no internet-haters, okay? I promise I won’t come around your blog and tell you what a terrible person you must be if you make an English mistake or cultural error, okay? Deal? Also, remember I started learning Somali in Somaliland and have continued in Djibouti so I speak a mix. Anyway, here goes…

Somali is a lively, vibrant, guttural language with loads of gestures. Before I studied it, it seemed like every group of Somalis I saw speaking together were on the verge of a brawl. Probably they were just talking about tea or camels or football. One of my favorite things about Somali is that it is a great language to get angry in. The forceful sounds and exaggerated hand movements are perfect for when this timid introvert loses her temper.

Once I was, rightfully, upset. I started to explain my situation in English but the English-speaking staff where I was didn’t get it. I switched to French and they began to sense my frustration. But it was only when I turned on the full throttle Somali that they grasped the true nature of my anger and did something to improve things.

Speak Somali without saying a word…


Using one finger, like in America, is how you call a dog. Point your palm down, fingers open, then cup your fingers closed – not in a fist – with the thumb outside the fingers.



Necessary/required/you have to

Push the side of the nose with one finger. My arm probably shouldn’t be out so far to the side but the kids were getting tired of taking pictures so I kept it.


Qasab/you have to


Over there

Point with either chin or tongue


waa kaa/there it is



Touch thumb and fingers and shake it slightly back and forth




Full (or a lot or crowded or packed)

Hold the hand in a fist with the thumb out and brush the thumb under the chin, flicking it out


buux/full (as corrected by Liiban, thanks!)


This is an insult men give to women. ‘Nuf said.

Instead of taking a new shot without the hair in my face, I left it in. That’s how this one makes me feel – frizzy.




Touch the temple with the index finger, all other fingers splayed open, and twist the hand at the same time as pulling it away from the forehead.




Don’t you dare

Grab the lobe of one ear between the thumb and space between the first two knuckles of the index finger and shake it. The Somali word for this sort of sounds like what a pirate might say. Argh. The ‘c’ is an ayn, not at all related to the English ‘c’.


car/don’t you dare



I’m never good at this and all my Somali-smile pictures have a goofy upturn on one side of my lips

We are all thrilled, for reals, to be at this wedding

If you are learning a new language, don’t forget about the non-verbals.

What are some gestures your language uses?

By |April 10th, 2013|Categories: somalia|Tags: , |68 Comments
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