Book Review by Meredith Hicks: The Orchard of Lost Souls by Nadifa Mohamed (Simon and Schuster)
Written by Somali-born Nadifa Mohamed, The Orchard of Lost Souls is a moving declaration of love to a lost homeland. The author weaves a story which takes place during end of the 1980s. The dictator Siad Barre has expanded his rule, but the population suffers and civil war, which eventually breaks out, is already felt by all members of society.
Against this background, Mohamed tells a tale of three Somali women who could not be more different, yet their fate seems to bind them irrevocably, not in friendship but in enmity. In the end, they will not only save their lives but also their dignity, in a special form of intergenerational women’s solidarity.
The book is structured in such a way that, in a first part, the three women are confronted with conflict. There is Deqo, a girl who has escaped from a refugee camp, trying to break through the city; the wise and older Kawsar; and Filsan, about 30 years old, who works as an officer for the ruling regime and is faithful to her ideology before she slowly falls into disgrace.
Mohamed alternately narrates the stories of these three very different women and their respective fates before the reader meets them again in a final part of the book.
The Orchard of Lost Souls is a novel about the life of women in a country that was already torn inside. The author manages to describe the everyday life of these three different women and their companions, and to bring one closer to Somali political life and history. The novel firmly adheres to the fact that even in the greatest need, amid war and misery, there are moments where integral human traits, like pride and dignity, can be lost for some but also cherished and preserved by others.
The author herself, who was born in 1981 in Hargeisa, left with her family for England. There, Mohamed completed her schooling and then studied politics and history in Oxford. Her first novel, Black Mamba Boy, released in 2009, received the Dylan Thomas Award. This, her second novel, reveals an expression of hope that one day Somalia might come together despite differences, as the solidarity of the three women characters in her book shines through.