When Fiona Sweeney tells her family she wants to do something that matters, they do not expect her to go to Africa to help start a traveling library. But that is where Fiona chooses to make her mark: in the arid bush of northeastern Kenya, among tiny, far-flung communities, nearly unknown and lacking roads and schools, where people live daily with drought, hunger, and disease.
In The Camel Bookmobile, Fi travels to settlements where people have never held a book in their hands. Her goal is to help bring Dr. Seuss, Homer, Tom Sawyer, and Hemingway to a largely illiterate and semi-nomadic populace. However, because the donated books are limited in number and the settlements are many, the library initiates a tough fine: if anyone fails to return a book, the bookmobile will stop coming.
Though her motives are good, Fi doesn't understand the people she seeks to help. Encumbered by her Western values, she finds herself in the midst of several struggles within the community of Mididima. There the bookmobile's presence sparks a feud between those who favor modernization and those who fear the loss of the traditional way of life in the African bush. The feud heightens when one young man"Scar Boy"doesn't return his books. As promised, the library stops all visits, but Fi goes to the settlement alone, determined to recover what has been lost.
Evocative, seamless, and haunting, The Camel Bookmobile is a powerful saga that challenges our fears of the unknown. It is a story that captures the riddles and calamities that often occur when two cultures collide. It follows an American librarian who travels to Africa to give meaning to her life, and ultimately loses a piece of her heart. In the end, this compelling novel shows how one life can change many, in spite of dangerous and seemingly immutable obstacles.
Hamilton weaves memorable characters and elemental emotions in artful prose with the lofty theme of Western-imposed "education" versus a village's perceived perils of exposure to the developed world.
Booklist - Carol Haggas
Starred Review. With a heartfelt appreciation for the potential of literature to transcend cultural divides, Hamilton has created a poignant, ennobling, and buoyant tale of risks and rewards, surrender and sacrifice.
[A] rare and balanced perspective on issues surrounding cultural intrusion and the very meaning and necessity of literacy, using rich and evocative prose that skillfully exposes the stark realities of poverty and charity in today's Africa. Highly recommended.
Margot Livesey, author of Banishing Verona, Homework and others
In this vivid, absorbing novel, Masha Hamilton transports her readers, even more surely than the camels do books, to the village of Mididima and the struggle between traditional values and western education. Richly peopled, full of conflicts and surprises, The Camel Bookmobile made me think and feel in all the best ways. My only regret was that the book had to end.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Louise Jolly A Camel Bookmobile...Fantastic! 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... Read More
Rated of 5
by MG The Camel Bookmobile The Camel Bookmobile is a gentle story of a woman who travels to Africa to bring literacy to illiterate people. As a teacher, I often wonder about the importance of some of what we are teaching our kids. The Camel Bookmobile does an excellent job... Read More
As a foreign correspondent for a
decade, Masha Hamilton
chronicled events overseas,
first working for the Associated
Press in the Middle East and
then later, in Moscow, reporting
for the Los Angeles Times,
writing a newspaper column, and
reporting for NBC/Mutual Radio.
Hamilton covered the intefadeh,
the peace process, and the
partial Israeli withdrawal from
Lebanon, as well as the coup and
collapse of the Soviet Union,
the growing independence in
Soviet republics, and Kremlin
politics. Early in 2004, she
worked in Afghanistan as a
Her debut novel, Staircase of
a Thousand Steps was
published in 2001, followed by
The Distance Between Us
in 2004. She lives with her
Against a background of war, terrorism, disease and unbearable uncertainty about the future, this story of how a foreign correspondent and his wife fought to adopt a Zimbabwean baby emerges as an inspiring testament to the miracles that love and dogged determination can sometimes achieve. Don't miss this gripping memoir.
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