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Black Mamba Boy

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  1,132 ratings  ·  152 reviews
For fans of Half of a Yellow Sun, a stunning novel set in 1930s Somalia spanning a decade of war and upheaval, all seen through the eyes of a small boy alone in the world.

Aden, Yemen, 1935; a city vibrant, alive, and full of hidden dangers. And home to Jama, a ten year-old boy. But then his mother dies unexpectedly and he finds himself alone in the world.

Jama is forced hom
Paperback, 280 pages
Published January 7th 2010 by HarperCollins Publishers
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3.73  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,132 ratings  ·  152 reviews

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Oct 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Nadifa Mohamed’s first novel is an homage to her father and is based on his life and wanderings around North East Africa in the 1930s and 1940s. Mohamed explains the title as being related to something that happened to her grandmother:
“When my grandmother was heavily pregnant with my father, she was following her family’s caravan and she got lost and separated from the others. She sat down to rest under an acacia tree and a black mamba snake crept upon her belly before slithering away, leaving h
Moses Kilolo
Jan 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
Nidifa Mohamed published her first book Black Mamba Boy in 2009. She took the material for it from her father’s account of his real life to craft this phenomenal book, which, unlike her flawless beauty, is made more achingly beautiful by its mesh of strength and unapologetic flaws. I met Nadifa at a writer’s workshop in the middle of last year, and the wisdom, passion and grace with which she spoke seems to be naturally instilled into her writing.

The book is about a journey. Not about a destina
Ben Babcock
I'm so thankful that I can read. I'm thankful that I happened to be born and grow up in circumstances that allowed me the luxury of literacy and the free time required to exercise and hone my reading skills. Books are a tool for education, a refuge and a means of escape, and a powerful drug that entertains and empowers. I can only imagine what people who grow up in circumstances more abject than mine think when they first behold a book, first understand the words on a page--what a feeling that m ...more
Oct 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This book was really in my wheelhouse. I love historical fiction. I love African literature. And I love reading about places that I have absolutely no knowledge of. The action centers around the horn of Africa in the pre and post World War 2 years. The protagonist, Jama, a Somali, finds himself caught up in the Italian invasion of Ethiopia and its neighbors. Jama and his mother are living with very reluctant relatives and their situation is precarious. Eventually he leaves home to live on the st ...more
David Hebblethwaite
Mar 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
Black Mamba Boy is based on the story of Nadifa Mohamed’s father, Jama, whom we first meet as a street child in Aden in 1935. When he falls out irrevocably with his friends, then loses his mother, Jama resolves to set out and find Guure, his own long-missing father, last heard of heading for Sudan – which is not nearly as far as Jama will travel over the course of the following twelve years.

Though it tells Jama’s story, this isn’t a straightforwardly biographical novel; from interviews, I gather
Jun 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: somalia
I just completed “Black Mamba boy” and thoroughly enjoyed the read. Through her writing, Nadifa Mohamed brought to life the bustling streets of Yemen and weaved together beautiful descriptions of life in East Africa and the Middle East at the time. She also shed light on the brutality, loss of dignity and oppression faced by East Africans under the colonial rule of Italy and Britain. Her character Jama demonstrates the experiences of a refugee, a young boy and a father trying to look for a bette ...more
Karen Triggs
Dec 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: africa, postcolonial
You can almost smell this powerful first novel. There is the stink of rotting goat meat, the sour odour of sweat and dust and the hot smoke in the boiler room of a British Navy steamship, as we follow Somaliland-born Jama, the main character, on an extraordinary journey from the backstreets of 1930s Yemen, through '30s and '40s Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, to the '50s docksides of peasouper Britain.

If you wrung out the pages there'd be a mess of blood and sand - the young Jama is educate
Jenny (Reading Envy)
It took me a while to get through this book. I just didn't care about Jama, the main character, and he moves from place to place so quickly I didn't get a chance to care about any of the others. It is interesting to see the Italian occupation of Africa during World War II through a Somali boy's eyes, but I'm not sure the novel knew what to be. Travel? War? Epic journey? Instead it is a little bit of everything and not enough of anything.
Bobbie Darbyshire
Aug 26, 2011 rated it liked it
More biography than fiction and sadly not quite either. Not enough historical explanation to educate me, not enough characterisation to hook me, not enough narrative shape to engross and entertain me. Some good descriptive writing, and I do know more now than I did, but the occasional sentimental authorial voice was intrusive, and, grrrrr, so many sentences were separated by commas - was her editor (like I was!) struggling to pay attention?
Mar 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
Black Mamba Boy is the debut novel by Nadifa Mohamed, recounting her father’s extraordinary journey through parts of East Africa and the Middle East on his quest to find family and prosperity. Set over a period of twelve years from 1935-1947, it was interesting to read about a world in the midst of change and the colonial campaigns still very much active in those regions, particularly in Eritrea where Mohamed writes that ‘Indian and Italian killed each other over African soil.’ I would however, ...more
Aug 03, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
To me, the Middle East is a true crossroad of the world and this really comes to light in Black Mamba Boy. In the book, it seems Jama’s quest takes him throughout the entire region where he is exposed to so many languages, foods, colors and vistas that they can’t help but enrich and educate him. His survival depends upon him learning to know when to trust people and situations because he thinks he has no one but himself to rely upon.

It’s hard to remember how young Jama actually is when he loses
Jun 23, 2013 rated it liked it
An interesting and educating read, I feared I'd find the book similar to "what is the what", but luckily that wasn't the case at all.
Yes, it does start with a grown up, yes it is about a little boy who covers thousands of miles in war-torn Africa -but that's about as far as similarities run.
Character Jama witnesses Africa during the second world war, he happens to be at places where the action is -or isn't. He loses friends, finds love, travels far.
Unlike other books, this book full of travel do
Jun 11, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Without education or mothering after the age of ten, Jama finds rooftops to sleep on with friends and roams streets to steal food. Based on the life of the author's father beginning in 1935, Jama wants to make it rich and think he can if he gets from Somalia where he was born to work in Egypt. He accomplishes his goal of where3 he wants to get, but not the one of becoming rich! He continually is running away from each area he obtains.

In the process he gets stuck in a French army where regular
Dec 15, 2010 rated it liked it
Jama is a resilient young man determined to find his father, no matter the sacrifice. He crossed countries after countries and discovered, grew, and survived. The story, somewhat fictionalized, is based on Nadifa Mohamed's father, Jama, who went on an amazing journey to find his father. I really appreciated the historic aspect of this book; the East African Colonial Era, and the meticulous details. While I liked the details, that were often poetic and refreshing, I sometimes lost track of the wh ...more
Richard Brand
Apr 05, 2018 rated it liked it
It just wasn't my book. I could never find the theme or the passion. It was my fault as the story of the young boy was brutal. The saga of this story included being orphaned on his own. The passion to find a place. The desire to find his father. But the quest was to get to Egypt but when he got there it was a not what he hoped. Or his quest was to find his father and half way through he finds where his father is and his father gets killed. The story is not poorly written. The language is poetic ...more
Nyawira Muraguri
May 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
Jama, a young Somali boy, transverses North and East Africa with unwavering courage and resilience. His journey is vividly described and one cannot help but smell the dust, the sweat and feel the heat as he crosses from one country to the next.

The beauty of the book, in my opinion, is how the tale of the love of family, kindness of friends and humanity of strangers is told alongside inhumanity and brutality (especially that faced in the hands of the Italian soldiers).

This was a really good read.
The book traces the journey of the Somalian Jama who travels from Aden through Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea and finally to England. The time is the 1930s to 40s and much of the book is based in Eritrea and the war Italy bought to the region. The book is based on the author's father and I think it would have worked much better if it was produced as the biography as his story is fascinating.
Dec 16, 2010 rated it liked it
The author packs a lot of adventure into this book, based on her father's life. It's interesting to me because I teach Somali students, but it's also a bit too complicated for its length. I got lost a few times.
Apr 12, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Cool story, but I couldn't connect with it.
Tumelo Moleleki
This book was many voyages in one but it's ending was ubrupt and unexpected.
African countries visited include Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Egypt. Jama never reached Sudan. Shidane's exodus shook me. I don't know if I will ever forget. Jama remains the lucky Somali boy while Liban is the unfortunate one. Learning of the existence of such prejudice is not surprising, however, it hurts just the same to know that some people are misfortune born. Why? Learned a lot about the life of Somalis in thi
Sep 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful, moving and fantastic to learn a bit about Somalia and lots about Africa.
Apr 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
This debut novel by Mohamed, a British writer of Somali descent, is a fictionalized account of her father's harrowing childhood as an abandoned orphan in the Middle East and Africa, which was selected for the 2010 Orange Prize for Fiction longlist.

The boy was named Jama by his restless father Guure, who left his wife Ambaro and son behind in mid 1930s British Somaliland to seek work in Sudan. However, Ambaro called the young boy Goode, or Black Mamba, in honor of the huge black mamba snake that
Jayne Bauling
Aug 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
We meet Jama in 1935, a ten-year-old Somali boy running around the streets and alleys of Aden. His amazing journey takes him back to his home country and thence to Eritrea, Egypt, Palestine and - eventually - Wales and England.

He is a wonderful character, both tough and fragile, his odyssey engrossing. Beset by tragedy, he is a survivor. We ache for him through his many disappointments, share the fear of a little boy alone in the world, admire his resilience.

A section of the book touches on the
Feb 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Jama is part of the dispossessed of Africa in the mid-thirties of the last century. Much of Africa is in an uproar as the colonial powers are vying to have it, and the people who have lived there are absolutely nothing in the face of the horrors that are happening. Parts of the book were slow, but I am still giving it 5 stars, because of the way the characters and all that happened were presented. First of all, a picture of the various native peoples and their differences and similarities are pr ...more
Marion // schiefgelesen
Dec 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
Black Mamba Boy ist die Geschichte von Jama, der früh auf sich allein gestellt seinen Vater finden will, der vor vielen Jahren aus Somaliland aufgebrochen ist, um im Sudan ein besseres Auskommen für seine Familie zu finden. Sein beschwerlicher Weg führt ihn aus Aden über Abessinien und Eritrea schließlich ins kalte und abweisende England.
Der Roman ist angelehnt an die Erinnerungen von Nadifa Mohameds Vater, der selbst einen ähnlichen Weg gegangen ist, und in England geblieben ist, nachdem er als
Kay Hart
Mar 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Nadifa Mohamed has so skillfully woven facts gleaned from interviewing her father, also named Jama, about his experience as a refugee fleeing his home in Somalia into a very readable novel that fits well into the genre of literary fiction. Her descriptive prose is at times beautifully poetic, at others graphic in its depiction of war, famine, torture and the great divide between west and east. As the child of a father who essentially entered Britain as a refugee seeking asylum, this is a worthw ...more
Nov 02, 2010 rated it it was ok
This book was disappointing as the author used foreign words and expressions without giving the reader enough information to put them into context. Even a glossary would help. Also it would have been helpful if she provided a map to help us place where the boy was traveling. Overall I thought the topic was interesting, but spent so much time backtracking to see if I could fill in the gaps she left, so I eventually stopped reading it.
Mar 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Fascinating read about a boy's long march to a better life and the choices we make. Interesting due to the time frame: World War II seen from the perspective of a young African boy. That it is the story of Nadifa Mohamed's father makes it even more interesting.
Dec 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
Traces a boy's journey through the Horn of Africa, Palestine and Yemen during WW II. I'm all about the journeys and getting my geography down better. I also love stories of individuals as they make their life given whatever historical circumstances.
Aug 22, 2012 rated it liked it
An epic journey by foot, camel, lorry and train through war-torn Eritrea, Palestine and, finally to the realms of Britain that Jama heard about in Yemen.
Colorful, noisy and very sad at times.
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Nadifa Mohamed was born in Hargeisa (now in the Republic of Somaliland) in 1981 and moved as a child to England in 1986, staying permanently when war broke out in Somalia.

She lives in London and her first novel, Black Mamba Boy, based on her father's memories of his travels in the 1930s, was published in 2010. It was longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction and the Dylan Thomas Prize and shortl