Excerpt from A Man of Good Hope by Jonny Steinberg, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Man of Good Hope

by Jonny Steinberg

A Man of Good Hope by Jonny Steinberg X
A Man of Good Hope by Jonny Steinberg
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2015, 336 pages
    Dec 2015, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte
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As I picture Asad heading farther from home, I think, more than anything else, not of what he left behind but of what he took with him. He would never again be firmly moored to any particular adult, to any family. He would become a child whose connections to others would dissolve and re-­form and disappear again. And yet he says with certainty that on his great journey through childhood and across the African continent he took his mother.

He has no memory of her face, or of the sound of her voice: her place inside him is more ambient than that, more powerful. It is indistinguishable from his sense of himself, of why he is a man who works hard and is kind and finds things funny; indeed, why he is the sort of man who can share such memories and keep his composure.

"If there is such a thing as a best mother, mine was it," he says. "My father was working all the time. It was she who was with us twenty-­four hours a day. She was very, very kind. I do not remember her raising her voice or beating us. I remember calmness and gentleness. I remember that she enjoyed being with us. If we were naughty, she would tell us that our punishment would come when our father got home. But then, in the evenings, she would protect us from our father.

"I last saw her at such a young age. The way she taught me, although I grew up an orphan, I still feel that what she was I am today. I did not lose her despite her death. I am not sure that words can describe what I am trying to tell you. I mean that by the time I was seven, she had already made me."

I press him to attach these feelings to particular memories of her. He thinks silently for a long time.

"Her hair was very beautiful," he finally offers. "Some women had many plaits. My mother did not. She parted her hair in the middle into two long plaits that went halfway down her back. We children played with her hair, sometimes all of us at the same time. I remember my hand touching my sister Khadra's hand while we both played with our mother's hair. Khadra's skin was so sticky, my mother's hair so smooth. I remember taking Khadra's hand away and running my cheek across the smoothness of my mother's hair."

When I ask him to describe his home in Mogadishu, he smiles and says he remembers each detail. But as soon as he begins talking, he stumbles and, in frustration, grabs my notebook and begins to draw.

He mumbles softly as he works, his cadences patient and singsongy, as if he is taking a small child through an exercise. Then he puts the notebook back in my lap. "Aha," he says.

As I examine the geography of his first eight years, he points a finger to the very center of his drawing, the colored-­in dot representing the hindi tree.

"It reminds me of my brothers and sisters," he tells me. "When the hindi tree is big, it grows tall and wide, and everyone sits under it. But ours was still small, so the only people interested in it were the ones who did not mind the sun—­the children."

He closes his eyes and tells me that he is picturing his siblings one by one, each under the hindi tree, each wrapped up in his own game. I ask him to describe them to me. "My older sister is Khadra," he says. "She was much whiter than us. She was almost like you. And her eyes were not like my black eyes. She had the eyes of a goat. The color was quruurax, like glass: not black or brown, not red, but like glass."

And then he describes his other siblings—­his younger sister, Rahma, and his brothers, AbdiFaseeh and HasanAbshir—­and I am startled as I listen, for he remembers them all, it seems, by their teeth.

"Hasan Abshir's were red," he says. "Khadra's were red with white dots. Mine are long and straight and very white. And yet we had the same mother and father. It is strange."

He curls his upper lip right up to the base of his nostrils and taps the nail of his index finger against his front teeth. Like his hands, they are long and well shaped.

Excerpted from A Man of Good Hope by Jonny Steinberg. Copyright © 2015 by Jonny Steinberg. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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