A Man of Good Hope, by Jonny Steinberg. Published 2015 by Knopf. Nonfiction.
South African journalist Jonny Steinberg's deeply wonderful book is a combination of biography, interview and journalism examining the life Asad Abdullahi, a Somali man who moves across Africa and ultimately to the United States in search of the things most of us take for granted- a stable safe life, a family, and a future.
When A Man of Good Hope opens Abdullahi is a young teen whose family has just been destroyed by Somalia's civil war. He sees his mother killed and is charged with the care of an older female relative, which soon proves impossible. At first he goes to live with some relatives, but things don't work out, and he tossed from one makeshift home to the next to the next to the next, to one marriage, to another, to different ways of earning a living and ways of just staying alive, and you'll have to read the book to start to understand the cultural maelstroms he fights his way through, the obstacles and the odds which are never in his favor.
Steinberg tells the story mostly from Abdullahi's shopfront in South Africa, where for a time he runs a convenience store until local residents unhappy with the influx of refugees from across the continent nearly kill him. The South Africa portion of the book was the hardest for me because after everything he went through to get there and to try to settle down, it was awful to see it snatched away.
It's excruciating. What kept me reading was the reassurance, because the book is based on Steinberg's interviews with him and Steinberg makes the interview process part of the story, that Abdullahi is still alive and actually made it through what he went through. I don't know if I could take it if the end was a tragedy.
So it's a tough read but so rewarding and so worth it. It's one of those books where I learned a lot but still feel like I knew less than I did before. And those are really my favorite books- the ones that teach me something and show me how much more I have to learn at the same time. It was without a doubt one of the best books I read in 2015 and I recommend it strongly to readers interested in learning about the forces large and small that impact the lives of people with no country to call their own.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.