BookBrowse Reviews Call Me American by Abdi Nor Iftin

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Call Me American

A Memoir

by Abdi Nor Iftin

Call Me American by Abdi Nor Iftin X
Call Me American by Abdi Nor Iftin
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jun 2018, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2019, 320 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Cynthia C. Scott
Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


A memoir about a young man growing up in war-torn Somalia, his love for American pop culture, and his harrowing escape to the United States.

As a boy growing up in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, Abdi Nor Iftin loved watching action movies in a makeshift theater. By doing so, he learned enough English to translate the films for the rest of the audience. As a teen, he also enjoyed hip-hop. Iftin's parents condemned him for his embrace of American pop culture, as did the sheikh at the local madrassa, where he was scolded and beaten. Through years of loss, poverty, and destruction, the one constant in Iftin's life was his enduring love for all things American, earning him the sobriquet, Abdi American.

Born in the mid-eighties to nomadic parents who moved to Mogadishu to escape drought, Iftin grew up in relative stability despite the civil war raging just beyond the city's borders. He and his brother listened to their mother's stories about life in the countryside and marveled at the relative celebrity his father had achieved as a basketball player for a local team. But when the war reached Mogadishu, calm turned to chaos, forcing the Iftins to flee. Once the sectarian violence spread, Iftin's father, often pulled over and beaten by checkpoint guards, thought the family would be safer without him and left. As Iftin writes with chilling starkness, his father "knows his presence with us could kill us all, because the militias are terminating men with their families together. But they might spare kids with moms." Fatherless and barely surviving, the family eventually returned to the hollowed out city and struggled to eke out a meager life. Neither Mogadishu nor the rest of Somalia would return to normal.

Through decades of civil war which collapsed the state government, and a failed U.S. intervention in the early 1990s which led to the death of American soldiers by local warlords, Iftin endured personal tragedies, poverty, separation, and near-starvation. Only American pop culture and a fleeting chance at romance spurred him on.

In 2006, Mogadishu fell to the radical Islamic group, al-Shabaab. Soon after, U.S. supported African Union troops entered the country to drive them out. During this period, many Somalis, including Iftin and his mother, escaped to a refugee camp outside the city. Unfortunately this region too was controlled by al-Shabaab. Fearing recruitment by jihadi forces, Iftin eventually returned to Mogadishu alone. Dodging snipers and terrorist attacks by day and hiding in a ditch at night, Iftin lived by the skin of his teeth. A chance encounter with an American journalist covering the war finally offered him a small glimmer of hope. An article about his experiences led to a post as a correspondent for NPR, which garnered him sponsors from Britain and the U.S. They helped Iftin resettle in Kenya and resolve visa and green card disputes in his efforts to finally come to America.

Call Me American can often feel like the Hollywood movies Iftin loves. His hide-and-seek game with the al-Shabaab is as suspenseful as any thriller. And there are moments of pure heartbreak as well. But Iftin, who has the storytelling savvy of a skilled reporter, never wavers into sentimentality. His revelation that Americans turn "guns on each other like Somali militiamen," letting the wind out of his romanticization of the country he loved, prevents Call Me American from descending into mawkishness. Yet Iftin doesn't give in to despair either. In spite of the challenges he and his people continue to face, Iftin shows that imagining a more hopeful future for himself and his family can be enough of a triumph in these dark times.

Reviewed by Cynthia C. Scott

This review was originally published in May 2018, and has been updated for the May 2019 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Qat

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Delayed Rays of a Star
    Delayed Rays of a Star
    by Amanda Lee Koe
    Amanda Lee Koe's Delayed Rays of a Star begins with a late-1920s photo of three women at a party in ...
  • Book Jacket
    Southernmost
    by Silas House
    Southernmost opens with a devastating flood in Cumberland Valley, Tennessee. Could it be divine ...
  • Book Jacket: Fake Like Me
    Fake Like Me
    by Barbara Bourland
    After years of trying to make it as a painter in New York City, the unnamed narrator of Fake Like Me...
  • Book Jacket: Hungry
    Hungry
    by Jeff Gordinier
    Noma, René Redzepi's restaurant in Copenhagen, Denmark, has widely been considered among the ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Beirut Hellfire Society
    by Rawi Hage

    A searing and visionary novel set in 1970s Beirut that asks what it means to live through war.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt
    by Andrea Bobotis

    A thoughtful and quintessentially Southern debut that unfolds like a magnolia.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club
Book Jacket
The Guest Book
by Sarah Blake

"An American epic in the truest sense…"
Entertainment Weekly

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win In the Full Light of the Sun

New from Clare Clark!

"Evocative prose and excellent pacing make this fine historical a must-read for art history buffs."
- Publishers Weekly

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

A A A Day K T D A

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.