Books by and about Somalis
There are hundreds of books and resources about Somalia. Many of these resources dwell on sensationalist topics like the Somali pirates and BLACK HAWK DOWN. Personally, I am far more impressed with true stories by and about Somalis, the Peace Corps Volunteers who served in Somalia, and some publications that are just fun So that is what follows.
(Note: All books listed on this page are affiliate links. That means that I get a commission when you buy one of these books via this link. You are, of course, welcome to go directly to another site to purchase the books as well, or get them through your local bookstore. They are all worth reading, no matter how you get them)
Books by Somalis
(Click below, on each book title, for more information)
THE FIRST WINTER: Stories of Survival by Experienced Hearts, by Bisharo Abdullahi, et al. Take a group of lively young women from Somalia, plunk them down in snowy Minneapolis, and what do you get? A totally charming, enlightening, surprising group of stories about the past, current realities and future dreams.
INFIDEL, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. As much as her father respected her intelligence, he would not accept any husband for her but the one he had chosen, a stranger to them both. Ayaan escaped, and here she takes us on that journey as she becomes an admired and controversial political figure. Ayaan has written several books; this is my favorite.
A PLACE FOR US, a Novel, by Fatima Farheen Mirza. The title aside, this is an original story of young people caught between two world, Somalia and the western world. A NY Times best seller.
THE GIRL WHO SMILED BEADS, A Story of War and What Comes After, by Clemantine Wamariya. The struggle of Clemantine and her young sister as they fled their war torn homeland, alone, weaving through countries they had never heard of. A Washington Post Notable Nonfiction Book. Oprah Winfrey reached out to help this woman reunite with her parents.
THE ORCHARD OF LOST SOULS, by Nadifa Mohamed. In the tragic Civil War that wrecked Somalia, three women form an unlikely friendship in a quest to find family.
AMAN: THE STORY OF A SOMALI GIRL, as told to Virginia Lee Barnes and Janice Boddy. I met Virginia, a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer, when I was in Somalia. Her deep knowledge of, and respect for, the Somali people shine through in this story told by a Somali friend.
Tales By Somali Peace Corps Volunteers
THE LAST CAMEL: TRUE STORIES OF SOMALIA, by Jeanne D’Haem. This is far and away my favorite Peace Corps Volunteer book. You have to read about Jeanne, her red hair flying as she sits on a tiger’s cage, throwing hexes on a roadside vandal. It is funny, exciting, and speaks truth.
THE TOUGHEST PEACE CORPS JOB: LETTERS FROM SOMALIA, 1969, by Jim Douglas. Jim was one of the agriculture guys, charged with helping farmers in the far bush. Somalia was reputed to be one of the most difficult assignments, and this book re-created from letters and journal entries does a good job of explaining Why.
BAADIYE IYO BELED: THE INTERIOR AND THE CITY IN SOMALIA, by Eugene Galaal, et al. A small, charming book of images, with translations of Somali poetry. It is now out of print, but do get it if you can.
Other Somali Books
SOO FARIISTA, COME SIT DOWN: A SOMALI AMERICAN COOKBOOK, by Wariyaa, et al. This is a cookbook like no other. Youngsters followed their grandmothers around the kitchen to find out how to cook gourmet Somali dishes, then placed it all in this beautifully designed and illustrated compilation, with delightful narratives.
ONE GOAL: A COACH, A TEAM, AND THE GAME THAT BROUGHT A DIVIDED TOWN TOGETHER, by Amy Bass. My friend Abdi told me about this book. Abdi is an immigrant, and he plays soccer, like the kids in this true story.. He knows how a group of players can bring a divided town together, even when those kids are ridiculed for their heritage. A great read.
FIELD THEORIES by Samiya Bashir. Bashir conjures language like a chess game, and you know you are in the hands of a master. She has published several books of poetry. Take your choice, each is an exotic journey.
In Bibi’s Kitchen: The Recipes and Stories of Grandmothers from the Eight African Countries that Touch the Indian Ocean [A Cookbook] A second truly great cookbook! This one was written by a Somali woman and includes recipes, images, stories from all along the Indian Ocean. It has won every cookbook award imaginable, and for good reason.
Modern History of Somalia
WOMEN’S VOICES IN A MAN’S WORLD: WOMEN AND THE PASTORAL TRADITION IN NORTHERN SOMALI ORATURE, c1899-1980, by Lidwien Kapteijns. Dr. Kapteijns diligently researched and presented the place of women in Somalia as demonstrated primary in their spoken literature, the only such publication that I have seen. Her exhaustive research, combined with her knowledge of the language, creates a study that was long overdue. I look forward to more study of this nature.
CLAN CLEANSING IN SOMALIA: THE RUINOUS LEGACY OF 1991, by Lidwien Kapteijns. This is the most graphic, the most gripping description of the endless massacres in Somalia that I have ever read. I simply did not understand what happened until I read this book.
FOLKTALES FROM SOMALIA, by Ahmed Artan Hanghe. These are folk takes for the serious student, not for children, with commentary from a male point of view. For example, he calls Arawello “the mythical tyrant Queen”.
JOURNAL OF THE ANGLO-SOMALI SOCIETY. This Society is a non-profit making international friendship society whose objective isto foster friendship and understanding between Somalis and the English=speaking world, and to develop cultural and social relations between them. Fascinating articles in each edition of the semi-annual Journal.