A Handed-Down History
Re-imagining the past
At a young age, the writer Yasmine Allas fled Somalia after her father was murdered during the civil war. For years she sought a way to return to the city where she grew up, until one day she was approached about making a television documentary about her youth. When she arrived in Africa, she found that everything had changed beyond recognition; the landscape was ravaged and the population had moved away. She realized that it was impossible to revive the past if you were continually escorted by a camera team. There was only one option: to use her imagination. And this is exactly what she has done in this extraordinary and original novel.
The story centres around a love affair between the young nurse, Zeyneb, and a wounded soldier whom she refers to as the ‘Stranger’. On the day he is discharged from hospital, he asks her to marry him and promises to come back for her when he is physically strong enough to do so. Much later, after Zeyneb has been promised by her father to another man, she is standing on the veranda when she sees a land rover entering the square. It is the Stranger. His arrival presents her with a difficult dilemma: either obey her father or follow her heart and run away with the Stranger.
This story is narrated years afterwards by their only daughter, a writer who has been living in the Netherlands for decades and returns to her land of birth to make a television documentary. She has great expectations of the reunion, but there is no one there who knows her and no one she knows. She is not even accepted as a fellow Somalian and it is clear that she does not belong there, she is not welcome. The daughter becomes acquainted with an old man who secretly takes her to her birthplace. There she pictures herself sitting on the garden swing in bygone days, she reflects on her parents’ marriage and the fate of her father, who was dragged out of the house by soldiers on that ominous day, never to return. This lyrical, occasionally magic-realist novel – a self-portrait, a love story and a social history all in one – is ultimately about accepting being uprooted. She is obliged to abandon the memories that have made her what she is, and a country she flees a second time.