The Bookshelf: About Somalia, By Somalis

somali books

Once we decided that we would be moving to Somalia back in 2003, the first thing I did was head to the Hennepin county library. I searched for every single book about Somalia and I found about fifteen. That included government papers and reports and children’s books. Granted, I didn’t know much so I didn’t know that I should google specific author’s names, like Nuruddin Farah or Waris Dirie. But still. There weren’t many books available.

Now? Hennepin County is home to more Somalis than any other county in Minnesota and there is even a book called Somalis in Minnesota (People Of Minnesota). The library has followed suit and the last time I was in Minnesota, I searched for books about Somalia and found hundreds, including articles in magazines and newspapers.

Now there are so many I wouldn’t know where to start. Back then, I simply checked out every single book and worked my way through them all. Now, no way. But here are some I’ve read, loved, hated, thrown against a wall, or read over and over again.

Books By Somalis

(*I go by the idea that the best practice is to go first to those who know best – Somalis. There was a recent hashtag on Twitter #cadaanstudies, cadaan means white, in which Somalis were complaining about the ways westerners co-opt their stories. I see the point, though I believe outsiders can also contribute to cultural discussions and often have valuable input. But here I want to highlight the diversity and talent of Somali writers. Personally, I find books written about the United States by non-Americans are incredibly helpful and insightful and I will never say that we can only write who we are. Otherwise how could a female author write a male character or how could a living person write anything historical? Anyway all that is for another day perhaps…on to these books!)

In the United States of Africa (French Voices) by Abdourahman Waberi, a prolific novelist. He also wrote Transit, The Land without Shadows, The Nomads, My Brothers, Go Out to Drink from the Big Dipper, and Passage of Tears (all translated from French)

Understanding the Somalia Conflagration: Identity, Political Islam and Peacebuilding by Afyare Abdi Elmi

Black Mamba Boy: A Novel is by Nadifa Mohamed who also wrote The Orchard of Lost Souls: A Novel

Waris Dirie is the author of several books

Desert Flower: The Extraordinary Journey of a Desert Nomad, also has been made into a movie
This book is probably best known for its horrific depiction of Female Genital Mutilation, a tradition which Dirie continues to campaign against.

Desert Children

Desert Dawn

Ayaan Hirsi is also the author of several books


Nomad: From Islam to America: A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations

The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam

Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now

Hirsi is a controversial figure among Somalis and Muslims. She has served in the Dutch parliament and worked with the film producer Theo Van Gogh who was killed by a Dutch Muslim the year after their film Submission came out.

Nuruddin Farah, author of several novels

From a Crooked Rib


and many, many more novels about Somalis and Somalia. His work is highly regarded in the literary world.

Nomad Diaries: Life, War and America by Yasmeen Maxmoud. This one…ah, this one. Could have used a better editor. Tough to recommend other than for the fact that as I read it I felt like I was living inside a Somali’s mind. It was interesting in that although she changed the name of the housing complex that features in the novel, I not only know exactly where she is writing about, but I also lived there.

Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth (Mouthmark)by Warsan Shire is a powerful book of evocative and at times erotic poetry.

Keeping Hope Alive: One Woman: 90,000 Lives Changed by Dr. Hawa Abdi, an incredible story of courage and bravery from southern Somalia.

What I’m reading this week

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott. Super interesting historical look at the role four specific women played in the American civil war. I had no idea there were so many female spies or that they could hide such serious weaponry up inside those hoop skirts. This was a different era in the treatment of ‘ladies’ and so they could get away with quite a lot. I am left with some questions about her research and facts but the story is fascinating so I’m letting those questions slide. This is a long one and I’ve had a busy week, so just one book this week.



*post includes amazon affiliate links

Other books by Somalis or about Somalia that you’d recommend? Have you read any of these and what do you think? What are you reading this week?