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.
"[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
The Camel Bookmobile is a fictional tale of an American librarian who leaves Brooklyn to work for a relief organization in Africa that sends books on the backs of camels to forgotten villages. Her intentions are entirely pure but, when the bookmobile causes a feud among the nomadic tribe it aims to help, she realizes her good deeds may come with a high price.
The actual Camel Bookmobile made its first run almost a decade ago. Three dromedaries trudged through arid northeastern Kenya to bring a library to settlements so remote they had become nearly invisible. Lacking roads, clean water, and food, those who inhabited these villages had never been to school much less held a book in their hands. The books that came to them were rare and precious gifts, allowing them to briefly escape the reality of squalor and destitution.
"With a heartfelt appreciation for the potential of literature to transcend cultural divides, Hamilton has created a poignant, ennobling, and buoyant tale of risks and rewards, surrender and sacrifice."-Booklist (starred review)
Freshman Common Read: NYU Steinhardt School of Education
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
A journalist who has worked for NBC Mutual Radio, the Los Angeles Times, the Associated Press, and other well-known news organizations, Masha Hamilton is the author of The Distance Between Us and Staircase of a Thousand Steps. She lives with her family in New York City.
Read "I Am For Sale: Part II", an exclusive essay by Masha Hamilton (2010)