Longlisted for the Orange Prize
Yemen, 1935. Jama is a "market boy," a half-feral child scavenging with his friends in the dusty streets of a great seaport. For Jama, life is a thrilling carnival, at least when he can fill his belly. When his mother—alternately raging and loving—dies young, she leaves him only an amulet stuffed with one hundred rupees. Jama decides to spend her life's meager savings on a search for his never-seen father; the rumors that travel along clan lines report that he is a driver for the British somewhere in the north. So begins Jama's extraordinary journey of more than a thousand miles north all the way to Egypt, by camel, by truck, by train, but mostly on foot. He slings himself from one perilous city to another, fiercely enjoying life on the road and relying on his vast clan network to shelter him and point the way to his father, who always seems just a day or two out of reach.
In his travels, Jama will witness scenes of great humanity and brutality; he will be caught up in the indifferent, grinding machine of war; he will crisscross the Red Sea in search of working papers and a ship. Bursting with life and a rough joyfulness, Black Mamba Boy is debut novelist Nadifa Mohamed's vibrant, moving celebration of her family's own history.
"[An] incredible story . . . An accomplished first novel . . . In its best, most moving moments, Mohamed portrays, from a child's eye view, both the loneliness adn camraderie of street children like Jama, whose friendships become almost as sustaining as food and water in this scorched and famished land."—Arifa Akbar, The Independent
"A compelling account of the refugee experience. Mixing startling lyricism and sheer brutality, [Mohamed] plunges into the chattering, viscous heat and 'hyena darkness' of Aden, 1935 . . . This is a significant, affecting book of the dispossessed."—Catherine Taylor, The Guardian
"A first novel of assured elegance and beauty . . . A stunning debut."—Kate Saunders, The Times (London)
"Set on the rough streets of Yemen in 1935, Black Mamba Boy tells a slice of history that seems all too modern. When Jama and his mother are abandoned by his father, they move to Yemen to try and make a new life. Rejected by the relatives they live with, Jama spends most of his days on the street. When his mother dies young, she leaves him with 100 rupees, which he decides to spend searching for his father. His journey takes him over 1,000 miles. Like other heartbreaking tales of child abuse and abandonment, Black Mamba Boy can be hard to take at times. But this debut novel is worth reading through to the end."—Marta Segal Block, Booklist
"Mohamed's beautifully rendered debut, inspired by her father's life . . . Jama is a charming protagonist whose peregrinations—assisted by clansmen, kind strangers, and ghostly visitations—are directed more by historical and biographical significance than by the demands of plot. Mohamed vividly recreates the complex atmosphere of the era, and her personal investment in the story gives it a passionate edge."—Publishers Weekly
Reviews from Goodreads
ADEN, YEMEN, OCTOBER 1935
The muezzin's call startled Jama out of his dream, and he pulled himself up to look at the sun rising over the cake-domed mosques, the gingerbread Adeni apartments glowing at their tips with white frosting. The black...