Synopses & Reviews
When Fiona Sweeney tells her family she wants to do something that matters, they do not expect her to go to Africa to help start a traveling library. But that is where Fiona chooses to make her mark: in the arid bush of northeastern Kenya, among tiny, far-flung communities, nearly unknown and lacking roads and schools, where people live daily with drought, hunger, and disease.
In The Camel Bookmobile, Fi travels to settlements where people have never held a book in their hands. Her goal is to help bring Dr. Seuss, Homer, Tom Sawyer, and Hemingway to a largely illiterate and semi-nomadic populace. However, because the donated books are limited in number and the settlements are many, the library initiates a tough fine: if anyone fails to return a book, the bookmobile will stop coming.
Though her motives are good, Fi doesn't understand the people she seeks to help. Encumbered by her Western values, she finds herself in the midst of several struggles within the community of Mididima. There the bookmobile's presence sparks a feud between those who favor modernization and those who fear the loss of the traditional way of life in the African bush. The feud heightens when one young man "Scar Boy" doesn't return his books. As promised, the library stops all visits, but Fi goes to the settlement alone, determined to recover what has been lost.
Evocative, seamless, and haunting, The Camel Bookmobile is a powerful saga that challenges our fears of the unknown. It is a story that captures the riddles and calamities that often occur when two cultures collide. It follows an American librarian who travels to Africa to give meaning to her life, and ultimately loses a piece of her heart. In the end, this compelling novel shows how one life can change many, in spite of dangerous and seemingly immutable obstacles.
"Hamilton's captivating third novel (after 2004's The Distance Between Us) follows Fiona Sweeney, a 36-year-old librarian, from New York to Garissa, Kenya, on her sincere but naïve quest to make a difference in the world. Fi enlists to run the titular mobile library overseen by Mr. Abasi, and in her travels through the bush, the small village of Mididima becomes her favorite stop. There, Matani, the village teacher; Kanika, an independent, vivacious young woman; and Kanika's grandmother Neema are the most avid proponents of the library and the knowledge it brings to the community. Not everyone shares such esteem for the project, however. Taban, known as Scar Boy; Jwahir, Matani's wife; and most of the town elders think these books threaten the tradition and security of Mididima. When two books go missing, tensions arise between those who welcome all that the books represent and those who prefer the time-honored oral traditions of the tribe. Kanika, Taban and Matani become more vibrant than Fi, who never outgrows the cookie-cutter mold of a woman needing excitement and fulfillment, but Hamilton weaves memorable characters and elemental emotions in artful prose with the lofty theme of Western-imposed 'education' versus a village's perceived perils of exposure to the developed world." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[A] lush celebration of the productive and destructive power of the written word....Hamilton has created a poignant, ennobling, and buoyant tale of risks and rewards, surrender and sacrifice." Booklist (Starred Review)
"Hamilton presents a rare and balanced perspective on issues surrounding cultural intrusion and the very meaning and necessity of literacy, using rich and evocative prose that skillfully exposes the stark realities of poverty and charity in today's Africa. Highly recommended." Library Journal
In The Camel Bookmobile, Masha Hamilton tells the story of a restless American librarian searching for more meaning in her life who travels to Africa to help start a library carrying books to remote settlements on the backs of camels. The bookmobile divides the semi-nomadic people it intends to serve: Scar Boy, the village teacher Matani, and others embrace it, seeing it as a much-needed taste of the outside world, while Matanis wife, her father and others fiercely oppose it, viewing it and the librarian herself as a dangerous and corrupting force. The settlement disintegrates under these pressures, while the librarian learns that cultural chasms can confound the best of intentions and doom an unexpected love.
Reminiscent of Reading Lolita in Tehran, The Camel Bookmobile is a captivating novel about a young American woman who leaves her everyday life behind, to bring the joy of reading to a small African village.
Fiona Sweeney wants to do something that matters, and she chooses to make her mark in the arid bush of northeastern Kenya. By helping to start a traveling library, she hopes to bring the words of Homer, Hemingway, and Dr. Seuss to far-flung tiny communities where people live daily with drought, hunger, and disease. Her intentions are honorable, and her rules are firm: due to the limited number of donated books, if any one of them is not returned, the bookmobile will not return.
But, encumbered by her Western values, Fi does not understand the people she seeks to help. And in the impoverished small community of Mididima, she finds herself caught in the middle of a volatile local struggle when the bookmobile's presence sparks a dangerous feud between the proponents of modernization and those who fear the loss of traditional ways.
About the Author
Masha Hamilton is the author of two previous books, The Distance Between Us and Staircase of a Thousand Steps. As a journalist she has worked for the Los Angeles Times, the Associated Press, NBC-Mutual Radio, and several other news organizations around the globe. She has spent extensive time in Russia, Africa, Afghanistan, and the Middle East reporting, researching, and writing, including a trip to Kenya to accompany the actual camel bookmobile on some of its runs. A graduate of Brown University, she lives with her family in New York City.