Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

An African Journey Beautifully Crafted Memoir Shows a Somali Refugee's Resilience in the Face of Violence

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

An African Journey Beautifully Crafted Memoir Shows a Somali Refugee's Resilience in the Face of Violence

Article excerpt

A MAN OF GOOD HOPE"

Byy Jonny Steinberg

Knopf ($26.95).

This is not the story of a great politician or a star's rise to fame. This is not the story of a man who thinks he is an inspiration or feels extraordinary. It is the story of Asad Hirsi Abdullahi, as told to Jonny Steinberg over the course of three years.

This beautifully recounted memoir details Mr. Abdullahi's life as a Somali refugee, from Mogadishu as a child through eight countries and two continents. It traces relationships formed and lost, communities found and built. His story is compelling on its own, but the added layer of Mr. Steinberg's growing connection to and understanding of Mr. Abdullahi delicately shapes "A Man of Good Hope" into a quietly powerful account of tragedy and resilience.

Mr. Steinberg was first introduced to Mr. Abdullahi in Blikkiesdorp, Cape Town, as a subject for a broader book about the effects of violence toward foreigners in 2008 in South Africa. Mr. Steinberg, a professor of African Studies and Criminology at Oxford University, has written extensively about various aspects of everyday life in his home country of South Africa.

Once he decided to write Mr. Abdullahi's story, his commitment was complete, not just limited to the many hours of interviews, but also including flying all over Africa, trying to retrace his footsteps and gain more perspective to write faithfully.

The end of Mr. Steinberg's careful efforts to get Mr. Abdullahi's permission and approval at every step is a book that feels like a collaboration, one man revisiting memories he has long left untouched and the other man growing an understanding of his subject and the political and social forces that shaped his life.

Mr. Abdullahi's story begins with his introduction to civil war in Mogadishu, when he was 8 years old and his mother was murdered in front of him. He moves around, from refugee camps to cities to desert towns, pursuing a better, more stable life. As Mr. Abdullahi explains, "To be able to wake up in the morning one must know that one day life can be different."

He does whatever he can, from hauling water jugs for restaurants to helping Somali refugees settle in Addis Ababa. …

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