Black Mamba Boy by Nadifa Mohamed
A Novel

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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.


About Nadifa Mohamed

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Nadifa Mohamed was born in Hargeisa, Somalia, in 1981 to a merchant marine father and a mother from a politically active family, and was trapped in exile when civil war erupted. She studied history and politics at Oxford, and has worked as a film researcher and scriptwriter.
Published August 3, 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 304 pages
Genres: History, War, Literature & Fiction. Fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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Whether on foot, by lorry, by train or by ship, Jama never stops traveling—first to Djibouti, then Eritrea, and eventually, in the 1940s, to Egypt, Palestine and Europe.

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The New York Times

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When not cooking scrumptious meals, he’s explaining socioeconomics on walks through neighborhoods where “the poor live above open sewers while the rich frolic in those European hotel pools, gormless, mindless, empty people.” He pleads with Jama to stay, promising to teach him to read and write, b...

Aug 26 2010 | Read Full Review of Black Mamba Boy: A Novel


Jama’s story doesn’t end there, though: he carries on through Egypt and Palestine, ending up working on a British ship embroiled in the deportation of the Exodus 1947 Haganah Jews – a brief side story which seems almost too good to be true in its emphasis of the themes of migration and loss – and...

Feb 10 2010 | Read Full Review of Black Mamba Boy: A Novel

Project MUSE

Nadifa Mohamed's debut historical novel, Black Mamba Boy, follows the story of a Somali boy named Jama who spends the better part of two decades searching for a place he belongs.

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Tottenville Review

In nine stories we follow her from New Jersey to Miami, as her family crumbles around her and young men woo her toward the darker paths her relatives take — into drugs, affairs and relationships bound for failure.

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