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Black Mamba Boy
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message 1: by Diane , Armchair Tour Guide (new) - rated it 3 stars

Diane  | 12974 comments Start discussion here for Black Mamba Boy by Nadifa Mohamed.


message 2: by Diane , Armchair Tour Guide (last edited Jul 15, 2018 08:20AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Diane  | 12974 comments About the Book (Goodreads description)

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 home to his native Somalia, the land of his nomadic ancestors. War is on the horizon and the fascist Italian forces who control parts of East Africa are preparing for battle. Yet Jama cannot rest until he discovers whether his father, who has been absent from his life since he was a baby, is alive somewhere.

And so begins an epic journey which will take Jama north through Djibouti, war-torn Eritrea and Sudan, to Egypt. And from there, aboard a ship transporting Jewish refugees just released from German concentration camps, across the seas to Britain and freedom.

This story of one boy's long walk to freedom is also the story of how the Second World War affected Africa and its people; a story of displacement and family.


About the Author (from British Council: Literature)

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 shortlisted for the John Llewellyn-Rhys Memorial Prize and the Guardian First Book Award.


message 3: by Diane , Armchair Tour Guide (new) - rated it 3 stars

Diane  | 12974 comments Discussion Questions (from the publisher)

1. Jama often suffers from being an outsider: first as a market boy, later as an orphan. But what advantages does he gain from being an outsider during his journey?

2. Jama’s mother tells him he is destined to be lucky because of her encounter with a Black Mamba snake during her pregnancy. In what ways does this prediction prove to be true?

3. Jama and his friends Abdi and Shidane are witness to and victims of horrific acts of violence. How do Jama and Abdi choose to respond to this violence? How does it affect each of their lives?

4. Jama comes of age during an incredibly turbulent time. How do the larger historical concerns of colonialism and fascism affect Jama’s everyday life?

5. hat kind of role do women play in Jama’s life?

6. How does Jama’s understanding of his mother change after he learns he is a father?

7. Jama keenly feels the lack of connection with his father, and is acutely concerned with becoming a man. Which characters offer him the best versions of manhood? Do you think Jama has figured out how to be a man by the end of the book?

8. Do you think Jama’s decision to leave Bethlehem and Gerset was a wise one? Would you have made the same choice?

9. During his travels, Jama often runs up against the national boundaries drawn by Britsh and Italian colonizers. How important is country to Jama, versus the importance of family and clan?

10. Jama becomes an orphan early on in his childhood. What sorts of families does he manage to create for himself during the course of his journey?


Laurie | 633 comments I finished this today so I will try answering a few of the questions.

2. Jama's mother was right in some ways that he would be lucky. He got in plenty of bad situations, but many of them turned out quite well. When he ran away from his family in Somalia and arrived thirsty, hungry, and exhausted in Djibouti, he fainted but was found by a wonderful man who took him in, took care of him and even offered him a permanent home. Later Jama contracted malaria and he was taken care of by some of the Somali askaris (soldiers). When he served as an askari himself with the Italian army, he was the only survivor in a bombing of a cave filled with explosives. There are more examples of times that he could easily have died, but there was someone who took care of him and helped him survive.

5. Women are very important in Jama's life. His father left early in his life, and he only had his mother to take care of him from the time he was about 5 until he was 11 years old. Then after his mother died and he was sent back to Somalia, he lived in a household of women. These women took care of him at a vulnerable time in his life. In Eritrea, when he settled down and opened a shop, the women in the next town gave him land in order to convince him to grow produce since he seemed to have a magic touch with growing crops. They looked out for the interests of their town by generously gifting the land to him.

7. Jama did not have his father growing up, but he had some decent male influences to show him how to be. The short time he stayed with Idea in Djibouti, Idea taught him that education was important and also to treasure one's wife. Jama's friend Jibreel taught him compassion when Jibreel took care of Jama while he had malaria. And his friend Shidane, even though he was no older than Jama, taught Jama to always be optimistic and to dream big.

8. I have a mixed view on whether leaving Bethlehem was the best choice. He envisioned using with the money he came back from Egypt with for a camel and supplies for a new shop. He didn't need to go to Egypt to make more money since he could have stayed home with his wife and used his mother's money for the purchases. He ended up missing out on the birth of his child since he left, and he didn't come home with much money anyway since he spent most of it in Wales. The one thing I think he did gain from his trip that was very valuable, however, was to see that the war he experienced was actually widespread and that people all over Europe suffered as people in Africa had suffered. And he saw how it was possible to do well in London if he could save money and move his family later on.

9. Country is not important to Jama at all. Even though he is Somalian, very little of his life was lived there. The Somalian clan he descended from was what was important to him. While he was searching for his father, he felt that he would be home as soon as he found him, wherever that was. He was always on the lookout for some of his countrymen wherever he was in order to feel at home. So it wasn't Somalia itself that was important, but the people of Somalian descent who were. By the end, he didn't think of Somalia as home at all. His home was where Bethlehem and his son were in Eritrea.

10. Jama formed close relationships almost everywhere he went that were essentially his current family. In Aden, he had Shidane and Aldi, two boys he ran around with when he felt unwelcome with his mother at his aunt's house. In Djibouti, he got very attached to Idea and his wife. In Omhajer, Eritrea, Jama had his close friend, Jibreel who took care of him. In Gerset, he had Awate, a young orphan boy he had saved and Bethlehem, the girl he fell in love with who both served as his surrogate family. On his journey in Egypt, he befriended Lipan, another Somalian man who journeyed the perilous journey to Port Said, Egypt with him. And finally, on the ship, he had a small group of Somalians who worked as firemen with him. He always had one or two people who served as his surrogate family everywhere he went.


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