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In the Footsteps of Ibrahim Ismaa’il: Nadifa Mohamed Reflects on Fellow Somali Writers

Black Mamba BoyIn an article for Asymptote, award-winning Somali-British novelist Nadifa Mohamed offers a reflection on a couple of prominent Somali writers, beginning with Ibrahim Ismaa’il in the 1920s.

According to Mohamed, Ismaa’il’s autobiography, Life and Adventures of a Somali, “opened the floodgates to a band of Somali writers” including Aman, Waris Dirie and Ayaan Hirsi Ali whose memoirs bravely address the ongoing plight of women in one of Africa’s poorest countries:

To start at the beginning of Somali literature in English, or at least what appears to be the start, we have to go back to 1928 and a anarchist-Tolstoyan commune in the rural English Cotswolds, where Ibrahim Ismaa’il recited his autobiography to his Belgian friend (and perhaps lover) Eugene Gaspard Marin. This remarkable document was unearthed by academic and Ethiopia specialist Richard Pankhurst, whose equally remarkable suffragette mother Sylvia had been close to Marin, and published decades later in academic journals, most notably the Rome-based Africa. In Marin’s preface he minimizes his role in the autobiography, stating “though his English had been slightly corrected, not a thought has been added or altered to make [Ismaa'il's] narrative more exciting or more to the taste of the European public.”

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Image courtesy The Guardian


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