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The Camel Bookmobile

3.36  ·  Rating details ·  2,179 ratings  ·  494 reviews
The Camel Bookmobile follows an American librarian who travels to the arid bush of northeastern Kenya to give meaning to her life, but ultimately loses a piece of her heart. A compelling novel that shows how one life can change many, in spite of dangerous and seemingly immutable obstacles.

When Fiona Sweeney tells her family she wants to do something that matters, they do
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published April 3rd 2007 by Harper (first published 2007)
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Average rating 3.36  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,179 ratings  ·  494 reviews

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May 25, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: kenya
A downside of living abroad in a country with a different language is that the selection of books in English is always minimal. Searching through the raggedy shelves at hostels or tourist-oriented cafes becomes a treasure hunt. Finding a copy 1984? Elation. Finding out that it is in German? Back to the shelves.

All of which is to say, I didnt pick up this book on purpose. But I finished it because a lack of other options.

If you want a book where you can lose track of how often African is used as
Jan 08, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Have you ever gotten so angry after reading a book that you wanted to 1) throw it out of a moving car 2) tear all the pages into itsy bitsy pieces or 3) make a effigy of the author with the pages of the book and burn it. Okay, the Camel Bookmobile was not terrible. The writing wasn't bad. The characters weren't off-putting. The story wasn't unpleasant. And yet it made me so angry! That's because it could have been so much more! I picked up this book at a second hand bookstore while on holiday ...more
Book Concierge
Fiona Sweeney is a librarian who accepts a job with a charitable foundation to bring books to remote villages in Africa, promoting literacy among the tiny, far-flung communities of northeastern Kenya. These settlements are impoverished, lacking roads or schools, and the peoples lives are steeped in tradition and superstition. Because the donated books are limited in number and the settlements are many, the library has initiated a tough fine: if anyone fails to return a book, the bookmobile will ...more
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Jul 24, 2009 rated it really liked it
Certain books are allowed to be less than perfect. For example, any book about librarians or book collecting or even writing is such a welcome publishing event that I give it some slack; just the mere fact that someone decided to choose these as subjects is enough to allow the author some latitude. The Camel Bookmobile, consequently, I have let the belt out a couple of notches. The writing is acceptable. The characters shimmy up against stereotype here and there. The author lets the genuine ...more
Jun 24, 2007 rated it it was ok
Shelves: africa
Big disappointment. Interesting premise, but so poorly written. She includes some neat proverbs here and there, but the book as a whole has a cardboardy feel - the sort of formulaic writing of a cheap romance. At times they even start speaking in "thees" and "thous", not a way I've ever had the urge to translate Kiswahili or any other language.
Feb 13, 2009 rated it really liked it
Fiona Sweeney is an American librarian with a desire to do something with her life, something that matters. Her family has always been rooted in the same New York neighborhood, but Fi isn't content to stay rooted. Instead, she decides to take a job in Kenya, helping to start a traveling library. The library takes books, by camel, to different tribes of people throughout the bush of northeastern Kenya.

The people of Mididima have differing feelings about the traveling books. Matani was sent away
Sep 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book was stirred in my memory today. Im sure its been over five years since I read it, and I remember enjoying it. Now after reading some of the reviews here on GRs, Im thinking maybe I ought to read it again. Not many people care for it. So you are on your own as to whether its worthwhile for you to read it. The author has written several other booksmaybe Ill take a look at one of those. ...more
Sep 06, 2017 rated it it was ok
Sadly this was as good as I thought it would be. The plot was slow. , the characters didn't really make me care for what happened to them.
Oct 01, 2011 rated it it was ok
Not an awful book but definitely not one to keep or recommend. The main story was just ok and I wanted to know how it turned out but I did not enjoy the individual stories and I didn't care for the characters. None of the characters were well developed. I always felt as if they were a bit unfocused and there wasn't enough for me to grab on to.

The book follows an American, Fi, to Africa as she volunteers to guide a new library program that sends books out to the villages on the African plains.
Dec 30, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-group, 2009, literary
This was a very interesting story based on a real life experience. A librarian wanting to do more than work in a library and shush children applies for a job in Africa in order to deliver books by camel to villages that would otherwise not ever be able to have access to books. However, because the books are scarce, if any books are lost or damaged the camel bookmobile will not return to that village.

The book deals with issues of whether bringing books to a people who still depend on the earth
Dina Roberts
Dec 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
Basic plot of this book: Young boy in Kenya gets scarred by hyena attack. Then he grows up and causes problems by not promptly returning his library books.

Then there's other failed marriages and deep thoughts about Americans and Europeans imposing their cultural viewpoint on Africans.
Grada (BoekenTrol)
I loved this book. It was interesting to read about other ways of life, other points of view on what is important in life.
I liked also the way the book was written, with different narrators that had their own look on things that were happening. The ending was unexpected, but I liked that.
*SPOILER below*

Had the ending been a good one, then for me it would have been too much of a romance book, that wouldn't have done the rest of the contents justice. But... as said, that's just my humble
Mary L
Dec 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was a compelling read for many reasons. The most important being that this is actually happening in Kenya, camels loaded with books travel to remote villages and lend library books to villagers. This is a work of fiction and Fi, the main character, travels by camel every 2 weeks to the village Mididima in Kenya, where she becomes enamored with some of the people there. Anything more would probably be a spoiler so enjoy !
Aug 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
I loved it. Yes it is about setting up a bookmobile in Kenya and bringing books and literacy to villages. But it is also about accepting or rejecting ways of the west. Very interesting. Also a bit of a love story too.
Stef Rozitis
I thought I ended up detecting an almost wokeness, a movement toward really problematising the issue in the book as a whole and I want to honour that even though the flaws made it in some ways a tiresome read. When I look at the suggested further reading and see Alexander McCall Smith on it (although in all fairness Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche heads the list as she should) I kind of see the source of the problem.

The fact is a white person's perspective on colonising mechanisms (such as globalising
Jun 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
Fiona is an idealist who is tired of her New York life and wants to do something more to make her mark on the world. When she reads of an opportunity to work on a Camel Bookmobile, she decides to go immediately, even though her friends and family don't fully approve. Once in Africa though, the story focuses less on her, and more on the lives of the people of the small nomadic tribe of Mididima. Here people's lives are changing, in reaction to the ideas the books bring, the threat it brings to ...more
Feb 04, 2010 rated it liked it
New York librarian Fiona Sweeney believes in books and literacy with a missionary zeal that sends her to Kenya, traveling with camels loaded with books to distant villages in the bush where most people have never held a book in their hands, nor seen a white woman

Her camel bookmobile is popular, but many in the village worry that books will bring modernization which will destroy their way of life. Others believe that modernization; more contact with the outside world; is what the village needs to
Apr 03, 2009 rated it liked it
A librarian who wants to do something that matters, goes to the
African bush to run a bookmobile that brings books to far flung
settlements by camel. The story focuses in on characters in a
particular settlement called Mididima. Because of the preciousness of
the books in such a setting, the Camel Bookmobile has a rule...if
anyone fails to return a book, the bookmobile will stop coming to the
settlement. In Mididima, one of the young men does not return some
books, and the librarian goes to the
Yvette Adams
Jul 02, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved that this book was set in a remote nomadic tribe in Kenya, and loved the idea of the camel bookmobile. Which is real! How cool!

I had recently watched The Queen of the Desert, with Nicole Kidman playing Gertrude Bell, whom I'd never heard of before, who was mentioned a few times in this book. Even before her name was mentioned I kept thinking back to the film because there were quite a few parallels. Just a nice coincidence.

I found the characters interesting, and while I did like the
Feb 24, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fiona Sweeney is a 36-year-old librarian from New York. She decides, somewhat naively, to move to Garissa, Kenya in Africa in the hope of educating the children and adults of small villages dotting the vast landscape through reading books and learning English. Of course, their current language is Swahili. Fiona receives help from Mr. Abasi and soon her mobile library becomes a reality, thanks to the camels who carry the books over the rugged terrain! As they set off, the village of Mididima ...more
Ginger Hallett
Jan 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
I liked this book. It wasn't what I had expected, and didn't end as I had feared it would. While on the surface it appeared to be simple in scope, and the beginning of the book describing how the "The American" became involved in the camel bookmobile project supported this idea, it soon turned out to be quite complex. The author did a good job of weaving all the personal, cultural, environmental and zoological elements of the story together to create a very thought-provoking, disquieting picture ...more
Jan 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Loved this book!
It gave me a fresh perspective on how helping "those in need" may be done to benefit the helper more than "the needy." Do those who have their own traditions and live apart from modern society really need to learn how to do things "our way?" Is it better? If so, better for whom?
I thought the book was well researched and the characters well developed.
I also think it would make a great movie.
Absolutely five stars.
The Loopy Librarian
Lyrical, descriptive writing told from the point of view of a variety of characters allowing insight into each of their lives and thoughts, especially regarding the bookmobile. Authentic dialogue, rich characterizations, complex ideologies and clashes of culture brought to life as well as complex relationships. Recommended for fans of travel fiction and anyone with a passion for books.
Mar 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-discussions
An interesting account of a librarian (Fi) from New York working in Africa to bring books to people via camels (this is based on a book project that actuslly happened). It is thought provoking reading how this changes both the people of Africa and Fi. I will be using this in my book discussions and will be interestedin seeing how the group likes it.
Alison Smith
Oct 10, 2014 rated it liked it
Worlds collide when a noble, idealistic voluntary American tries to introduce books & literacy to a nomadic tribe in Kenya. A quixotic scheme at best; foolish, at worst. Sharing one's love of reading does not always bring the desired results! Masha Hamilton's own bio reads like an adventure novel. An interesting read.
Apr 05, 2009 rated it liked it
This book was really fun. It is very cool to me that there actually is a camel bookmobile that this fictional story is based on. It's sort of a beach read kind of book, but set in Africa. It has travel, mystique, love, etc.
Jul 20, 2007 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-fiction
I was pretty disappointed in this book. I was hoping for a fictionalized look at Western books influencing a traditional African culture. In this soap opera, the books were barely even mentioned. At least it only took a couple hours from my weekend to finish.
Aug 30, 2007 rated it liked it
This is an interesting fictional account of an actual bookmobile that travels by camel in Africa. The issues related to the nomadic tribe and its interest/disinterest in books were really interesting. I'd give it 3 and a half stars, really, but not 4 because some of the storyline seemed contrived.
Ro Hart
Feb 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
It took me until half way through to fully engage with the characters and then I was hooked. The ending just summed the whole situation up in a very surprising way.
May 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
See my review on my book blog:
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Masha Hamilton is the author of five novels: Staircase of a Thousand Steps, (2001) a Booksense pick by independent booksellers and a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection; The Distance Between Us, (2004) named one of the best books of the year by Library Journal, The Camel Bookmobile, (2007) also a Booksense pick, and 31 Hours, named by the Washington Post as one of the best ...more

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“Books allowed her vicarious tastes of infinite variety, but they didn't supplant the need to venture out into the big and the messy. In fact, just the opposite. Books convinced her that something more existed---something intuitive, beyond reason---and they whetted her appetite to find it.” 7 likes
“The stories she'd read of others' lives over these last few months had left her with a greater appreciation for the thread of her own life.” 7 likes
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