Reviewed by Adan Makina
Book: Mogadishu Memoir
Author: Hassan Abukar
Publisher: AuthorHouse (May 26, 2015)
Paperback: 146 pages
Literary doyen Hassan Abukar, a prolific writer, a good friend and former editorial Board member of WardheerNews, has just released his long-awaited memoir. The book, Mogadishu Memoir, hit the shelves recently and is also available online at www.amazon.com at an affordable price that pleases the ardent and serious reader. An avid reader himself, Hassan took pains to deliver a remarkable narrative that jolts the nerves of the reader. Mogadishu Memoir-the only topic of its kind written by a fellow Somali-has been in the making for many years. Having read Mogadishu Memoir from cover to cover, I was impressed by the author’s sharp memory, linguistic expressions, and journalistic eloquence. The book is tiny-just 146-pages-though the wordings are heavy and humongous.
It is a memoir, a word borrowed from French which denotes to mean memory or reminiscence. Hassan’s memoir is about his recollection of moments of history in the olden days when the famous city of Mogadishu in Somalia was bustling with life and laughter and positive projections. It was an era of serenity, of national stability and military governance, and a following period of ultimate descent into turmoil, hostility, and social and political chaos. It is a memoir laden with beautiful and beastly narrations, childhood memories, human injustices, exodus and migratory patterns, political revivalism and religious assemblage and convocations.
Sometimes back, while Hassan was deeply immersed in writing the current book under review, in a written electronic exchange, I remember telling him to change the five shillings his father gave him during a visit by the old man to their Mogadishu residence when he was just seven-years old, into five million. Hassan must have made millions of Somali shillings during his stay in the Land of Milk and Honey (USA) as 1 US Dollar equals 669.95 Somali Shilling at the time of writing this review.
Unlike other Somali writers who keep aloof from writing anything that may hurt family members as they confine themselves to religious conservatism, Hassan’s descriptive writing method seems to be too ostentatious especially when exposing unique characters. He does not shy away from pinpointing the fact as he sees it and audaciously exposes people’s behaviors and mannerisms without the least fear or favor. His writing style reflects modern writing methods as evidenced by his past articles that have become a force to reckon with.
A book of this nature is considered dangerous by dictatorial regimes mainly those ruling with iron fist in the African continent and would obviously have put its author in hot soup. It would have been considered litigious and smacking of character assassination. The author must have been fortunate in his upbringing as he was brought up in Mogadishu that was the center of governance and civilization. Mogadishu, ‘the seat of the Shah’, is reputedly the most famous of all Somali cities and has a rich mix of cultural and social history.
Born in 1960 when Somalia proclaimed independence from England and Italy respectively, and when the horrors of European colonization became history and a thing of the past, Hassan saw the virtues of independence in its true colors. He gives a clear description of the souks and bazaars, cinemas and recreation centers, neighborhood settings, school systems, childhood malevolence, hideouts for gangsters like the infamous Jamal Jaan which was a gathering venue for wastrels and alcohol and drug addicts and does not shy away from exposing the nature of crime and punishment in a totalitarian regime.
I found captivating the part highlighting religion and religious practices in Somalia of the past, mainly before the demise of the military junta. Yes, I agree with the author that majority of women, with the exception of a few Benadiri women, never wore the hijab that has become a common fashion in contemporary Somalia. The hijab became a universal fashion among Somali women mainly after the great exodus to Kenya where religious propagation took off especially with the exponential increase in the number of Somalis getting educated in the Arabian Peninsula. Perhaps the agitation toward Islamic studies and propagation was accelerated by the killing of the ten sheikhs in 1975. Though it may have escaped the attention of the author, right across Somalia’s southern border where massive refugees camps were being set up by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), in the expansive Somali-inhabited region of North Eastern Province (NEP) in Kenya, Kenyan-Somali women had long mastered the art of Hijab.
Depending on his visualization and focus of events, his choice of narrations at times explode into glamorous celebrations and other times, you could find yourself confounded by sadden fear and revolt as the stories penetrate your inner feelings. I would say, this is a book that sets the stage for how future Somali writers ought to incline themselves and approach in their pursuit of literary recognition. The author has not evaded to highlight his own rambunctious childhood, educational achievements and downfalls, trials and tribulations, religious practices, familial breakups, and above all his exposure to danger in the wild. Perhaps, after all the ups and downs in life, it is his religious conviction, bright mind, and saintly perception that sent him vacating the land he reminisces most.
If you have the thought of embarking on a book project about Somalia and the Somali people, I would advice you to read this book for it will give you a glimpse of the land and the inhabitants of the historical Horn of Africa nation. For the Somali youth born in the Diaspora, the book will help in unraveling the unknowns of the Somali past. Get yourself your favorite beverage, sit back, relax and read in its entirety. It does not cost much; just $14.95 on www.amazon.com. You will love it!
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