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Nomad Diaries: A Review By Ali Artan Jan 02, 2010 Whether you are an immigrant or someone who has never embarked on a journey to far off places, whether you’ve intermingled with strangers, eaten exotic dishes or immersed yourself in alien customs the novel Nomad Diaries should entice and enthrall. Nomad’s fictional accounts based on the author’s firsthand experience are unfiltered stories that will enlighten you. Nomad Diaries, as its name implies, are collections of anecdotes conveying the twists and turns of immigrant lives in transition. There is a love affair, a survival story, and an integration-assimilation-isolation in one locale. If you are an immigrant there are plenty of scenes you can relate to and appreciate; if you are not, the novel will be an eye opener to a whole new experience about what it means to be a newcomer to the melting pot called America. The book will certainly shake you up and maybe reshape your presumptions about immigrants. Yasmeen Maxamuud is a talented writer, a Somali immigrant who tells stories of immigrant families and their experiences in America from a female viewpoint with tapestry and textures unique to her unique style of storytelling. In a world filled with stereotypes, prejudice and despair Nomad Diaries forces the reader to hope and dream again. Hence the recounting of Nadifo Caafi and her husband Cartan’s stories (a high ranking government official) is remarkable. They were people who had it all, living large as the saying goes in their mansion in the blistering capital Hamar. Little did they know on the eve of the civil war while their son Geele’s (expatriate, engineer from America) wedding festivities were underway that a destiny of shattered dreams would turn their lives upside down. The family migrated to Kenya hence beginning a life of refugees known to most Somali immigrants, adjusting to a destitute life of food ration and wood gathering for a family that once had it all. However, after years of waiting Nadifo’s family migrated yet again to a new country, this time to a much better place: The United States of America? It was ironic that the resettlement manager in Minneapolis who could neither speak good Somali nor good English took the Cartan family to their transitional apartment. He started explaining how to turn on/off the stove, the purpose of having a refrigerator in the apartment, and so on. They were amused how little he knew about their past life. Nadifo knew Cartan was multilingual who could do a much better job interpreting than this poor guy, but she restrained herself from interfering.

Cartan and Nadifo’s relationship is tested like any other marriage, refugee immigrant life introduces to them issues they would have not have dealt with as a couple, being that their marriage was one based on love and mutual respect. To deal with her problems Nadifo is reminded the unlucky hand life had dealt her, as she takes possible scenarios from Amy, her American friend who places material worth on everything. The chapter “Glimpse and Awe” revisits their past life and compares and contrasts it to their contemporary one. Then there is the relationship between Ceebla, a very sophisticated, gifted and successful lady, and Haybe, a lawyer, handsome and generous. Their relationship is hardened when they are faced with the dilemma of family interferences and old aged cultural beliefs that they both believe should be done away with, especially giving their new lives in America. Yasmeen touches on another dimension of immigrant life where Hanad a cab driver and his wife Warsan find marriage bliss anything but; their marriage seems on a collision course as they struggle to make senses of Diaspora marriage that has been influenced by Warsan’s Western values. Warsan wants to live lavishly and spend beyond her means, and Hanad works hard round the clock yet his efforts are not appreciated. Hanad finds himself between a rock and hard place. And then there is Idil, the pretty, rebellious and rough girl of Cedar Springs Apartments. She is rough yet companionate, rude yet honest, crude yet loving. She looks out for Shirwac while wreaking havoc in the apartment complex where she has reluctantly became a resident. When she accompanies Shirwac, a modest kid with issues of his own to deal with, the opposite of her in temperament and her cousin, she persuades him that they should embark upon their first journey to California, she said “Hey Shirwac! I know it is federal for us to go to California but we got no choice.” Slang as it turns out is the language she uses to comoflouge her inner self. Shirwac who at the beginning dislikes her for her rudeness towards elders suddenly finds himself in awe of her. He may be smitten by her, but she is his cousin and matters of the heart between them would not jive with her. This novel acknowledges that America is still the land of opportunity and possibilities where one has the leverage to shape his future, it also clarifies that the path one takes is decidedly his own given the many possibilities that exists in the streets of America. All of this is within reach in America but we are reminded that America too has its own problems, crime, gang violence, dysfunctional families, rebellious teens, and drop out rates that are on the rise. Nomad Diaries warns the newcomers to be vigilant about this “other America.” Nadifo and Cartan and their offspring are good examples of how misery can exist even in one of the richest places on earth. The main characters, an affluent, well off Somali family where Nadifo and Cartan are at helm may not give us a fair glimpse at other groups that are in different social strata, some more fortunate, others less. Some who immigrated to unknown territories and reached their respective destinations taking harsher routes than Nadifo's family, a story that also deserves a mention in my opinion.

I found at times that Nomad Diaries emphasized some negative aspects of the Somali culture, and then there are other negative influences such as that of Amy’s suggestion of retaliation amid family problems. Also Nomad Diaries does not introduce some positive stories like Somali immigrants who are running successful businesses, although its apparent it was not the intention of this particular novel. This is not a critique so much as a recommendation: Translating Nomad Diaries into Somali would allow its message to reach a larger audience and have a wider impact. Yasmeen has provoked controversial yet constructive community-held assumptions about immigrants. She’s also brought purposefully to the surface the limited knowledge of citizens of host countries about the richness and resourcefulness of immigrants. By all accounts, Nomad Diaries is for anyone who has an interest in reading about an adventurous life and a love affair all within the world of human migration. I hope Nomad Diaries makes you dance.

Ali Artan Email:

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Nomad Diaries