Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Book Review: A Man of Good Hope

A Man of Good Hope (2015)
Written by Jonny Steinberg
294 pages
U.S. Publisher: Knopf

If war is an earthquake, then A Man of Good Hope is about the many aftershocks that resulted in one man's life from the civil war in Somalia that erupted in the early 1990s.

The book chronicles the life of Asad Abdullahi, a man born in Somalia who became one of millions displaced by the conflict. He had one of the most hellish childhoods I've ever seen or read and traveled through a half-dozen African countries in search of a permanent place to call home, only to find adversity at every turn.

This story is not for the faint of heart. There were multiple times where I had to read it piece meal because of the level of tragedy in it. Having said that, it is a terrific book that sheds light on so many contemporary global issues. There's a lot to be said in the book about migration, war, immigration, xenophobia, family, survival of culture and values and how to face adversity. From Somalia to Ethiopia to South Africa, Abdullahi constantly had to fend for himself in counties where he was not welcome by some of the residents. Beside the initial terror in Somalia, the worst events came in the supposed safe haven of South Africa, where a string of tragedies in 2008 killed Abdullahi's family or co-workers or drove relatives out of the country. I was glad for him in the end, but the road to that ending is paved with heartbreak, violence and a steely resolve for a better tomorrow.

The book's aforementioned themes made me think long and hard about geopolitical issues akin to ones in the book. For example, Americans tend to think of immigration exclusively in regards to people migrating through the border with Mexico. But migration and immigration happens all over the world. And as people migrate to different countries, native residents resent the newcomers for loss of job opportunities and the like. And yet, people migrate every day in search of a better life.

In a strange way, the sheer amount of trials Abdullahi had to persevere through reminded me of some of Louis Zamperini's experiences in Laura Hillenbrand's mega-bestseller Unbroken. Steinberg, a lecturer of African studies at Oxford, interviewed Abdullahi dozens of times in his car, an unusual place for an interview. As the book progresses, Steinberg will point out geopolitical forces at work and if Abdullahi has a fuzzy recollection of events, Steinberg indicates it. As such, Abdullahi is not made out to be a perfect saint, but he is still a person I rooted for to get his happy ending, wherever it would be.

This is, simply, a stellar book. Highly, highly recommended. Grade: 5/5 stars.

The book is currently available in hardcover and ebook formats.

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