Synopses & Reviews
Yemen, 1935. Jama is a “market boy,” a half-feral child scavenging with his friends in the dusty streets of a great seaport. For Jama, life is a thrilling carnival, at least when he can fill his belly. When his mother—alternately raging and loving—dies young, she leaves him only an amulet stuffed with one hundred rupees. Jama decides to spend her lifes meager savings on a search for his never-seen father; the rumors that travel along clan lines report that he is a driver for the British somewhere in the north. So begins Jamas extraordinary journey of more than a thousand miles north all the way to Egypt, by camel, by truck, by train, but mostly on foot. He slings himself from one perilous city to another, fiercely enjoying life on the road and relying on his vast clan network to shelter him and point the way to his father, who always seems just a day or two out of reach.
In his travels, Jama will witness scenes of great humanity and brutality; he will be caught up in the indifferent, grinding machine of war; he will crisscross the Red Sea in search of working papers and a ship. Bursting with life and a rough joyfulness, Black Mamba Boy is debut novelist Nadifa Mohameds vibrant, moving celebration of her familys own history.
"Mohamed's beautifully rendered debut, inspired by her father's life, opens in 1935 Aden, Yemen, where 11-year-old Jama and his mother subsist in precarious destitution: Jama spending his days on the streets with other 'market boys' while his mother works long hours for little pay at a coffee factory. When his mother dies, Jama briefly returns to his family's home in Hargeisa before running away to search for his long-absent father, who he believes is in Sudan. His quest leads Jama into Italian-controlled Eritrea, where he joins Mussolini's Fascists in exchange for food and shelter, and Mohamed delivers graphic descriptions of the horrifically savage treatment the African askaris received at the hands of the Italians. After the Italians are deposed, Jama settles for a few years into village life, before his wanderings take him to Egypt. Jama is a charming protagonist whose peregrinations--assisted by clansmen, kind strangers, and ghostly visitations--are directed more by historical and biographical significance than by the demands of plot. Mohamed vividly recreates the complex atmosphere of the era, and her personal investment in the story gives it a passionate edge. (Aug.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
Yemen, 1935. Jama is a half-feral child scavenging in the streets of a great seaport. After his mother dies, Jama decides to search for his never-seen father. So begins Jama's extraordinary journey of more than a thousand miles north all the way to Egypt.
About the Author
Nadifa Mohamed was born in Hargeisa, Somalia, in 1981 to a merchant marine father and a mother from a politically active family, and was trapped in exile when civil war erupted. She studied history and politics at Oxford, and has worked as a film researcher and scriptwriter.
Reading Group Guide
1. Jama often suffers from being an “outsider”: first as a “market boy”, later as an orphan. But what advantages does he gain from being an outsider during his journey?
2. Jamas mother tells him he is destined to be lucky because of her encounter with a Black Mamba snake during her pregnancy. In what ways does this prediction prove to be true?
3. Jama and his friends Abdi and Shidane are witness to and victims of horrific acts of violence. How do Jama and Abdi choose to respond to this violence? How does it affect each of their lives?
4. Jama comes of age during an incredibly turbulent time. How do the larger historical concerns of colonialism and fascism affect Jamas everyday life?
5. What kind of role do women play in Jamas life?
6. How does Jamas understanding of his mother change after he learns he is a father?
7. Jama keenly feels the lack of connection with his father, and is acutely concerned with becoming a man. Which characters offer him the best versions of manhood? Do you think Jama has figured out how to be a man by the end of the book?
8. Do you think Jamas decision to leave Bethlehem and Gerset was a wise one? Would you have made the same choice?
9. During his travels, Jama often runs up against the national boundaries drawn by Britsh and Italian colonizers. How important is country to Jama, versus the importance of family and clan?
10. Jama becomes an orphan early on in his childhood. What sorts of families does he manage to create for himself during the course of his journey?