Amilah, a collection of fictional short stories, provides readers with a taste of the Somali culture in the portrayal of seven Somali characters’ lives and their battle against domestic violence, Islamophobia, depression, estranged families and other diaspora-related, modern-era issues. The author, Halima Hagi-Mohamed, is a young Somali-American who has previously been sharing her short stories on the Facebook page “For Somali Gabdho” (For Somali Girls) and Wattpad before self-publishing her first book.
The stories are diverse with contrasting voices that are narrated from each character’s point of view, albeit sharing a common theme: hope, the definition of the book’s title. For instance, in the first story, the book opens with the journey of Amilah, a young Somali woman who is emotionally and physically abused by her husband. The story begins from the ending and the writer inserts snippets of short scenes throughout the compelling narrative that ultimately answer the reader’s questions. Amilah reflects on her relationship throughout the narrative and eventually reveals the reason for her decision. Although the story is of a dark nature, Hagi-Mohamed creates a sense of hope that prevails towards the end of the character’s story, making one wonder about Amilah’s future and what it may hold for her.
However, each story leaves many of the reader’s questions unanswered. One wonders whether the characters will get the closure they need or overcome their battles, especially in the narratives that follow. Will Haniya overcome her struggle against depression? Will Loyan be able to succeed in his task? These are some of the many questions that you may be left with. But of course, one is reminded that these are short stories. Nevertheless, the writer succeeds in making the reader intrigued and eager to find out more.
The book freely showcases the Somali culture through the use of the Somali language, traditions, food, attire and social etiquettes. The non-Somali speaking, English reader may struggle with the constant use of Somali words but most of these expressions like “Hooyo” (Mother) “Aabo” (Father) are simplistic, commonly used, and oft-repeated while other longer phrases may be more complex for the English reader but the glossary at the back of the book provides the clarifications needed. The Somali reader, on the other hand, may be able to relate to the characters through the portrayal of the Somali culture in their dialogue, monologue, storyline and descriptions.
In “Hooyo Macaan”, the narrator depicts her youthful mother in a traditional manner, exhibiting general Somali perceptions of beauty with “Qalanjo. Cadey. Quruxley” (Tall/Slim. Fair. Beautiful). And in most scenes, the constant use of ‘Shaah” (tea), “bariis” (rice), “hilib” (meat) “baasto” (pasta) – creates a convincing depiction of Somali characters’ and their everyday lives.
In overall, I’ve enjoyed reading Amilah and all the short stories in the book, although I was more interested in particular stories like ‘Hooyo Macaan”, “Aabo”, “Amilah”, “Haniya”, and “Case No. 23”. I feel that these stories depict some of the most common issues in Somali communities around the world.
By Fatiha Ahmed