Summary and book reviews of A Man of Good Hope by Jonny Steinberg

A Man of Good Hope

by Jonny Steinberg

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

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

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About this Book

Book Summary

In January 1991, when civil war came to Mogadishu, two-thirds of the city's population fled. Among them was eight-year-old Asad Abdullahi.

In January 1991, when civil war came to Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, two-thirds of the city's population fled. Among them was eight-year-old Asad Abdullahi. His mother murdered by a militia, his father somewhere in hiding, he was swept alone into the great wartime migration that scattered the Somali people throughout sub-Saharan Africa and the world.

This extraordinary book tells Asad's story. Serially betrayed by the people who promised to care for him, Asad lived his childhood at a skeptical remove from the adult world, his relation to others wary and tactical. He lived in a bewildering number of places, from the cosmopolitan streets of inner-city Nairobi to the desert towns deep in the Ethiopian hinterland.

By the time he reached the cusp of adulthood, Asad had honed an array of wily talents. At the age of seventeen, in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, he made good as a street hustler, brokering relationships between hard-nosed businessmen and bewildered Somali refugees. He also courted the famously beautiful Foosiya, and, to the astonishment of his peers, seduced and married her.

Buoyed by success in work and in love, Asad put twelve hundred dollars in his pocket and made his way down the length of the African continent to Johannesburg, South Africa, whose streets he believed to be lined with gold. And so began a shocking adventure in a country richer and more violent than he could possibly have imagined.

A Man of Good Hope is the story of a person shorn of the things we have come to believe make us human - personal possessions, parents, siblings. And yet Asad's is an intensely human life, one suffused with dreams and desires and a need to leave something permanent on this earth.

Chapter 1: Mogadishu

In describing his childhood there is really only one place for Asad to begin. It was early one morning; he is not sure of the day, but the month was January 1991. This he understands from collective memory; nobody who knows Mogadishu, the capital city of Somalia, is unaware of what happened that month.

He believes that he was eight years old. Whether he knew before that he was Daarood and that others were not is irretrievable now, but he certainly came to know it on that day.

In January 1991, militias began to attack the northern parts of Mogadishu. The men in these militias were Hawiye, and they wanted to overthrow the government of President Mohamed Siad Barre, who was Daarood.

"The militias were based in the countryside outside the city," Asad tells me. "They controlled the north of the country. They would come into Mogadishu to attack and regroup, attack and regroup, in waves.

"They came at night, and their target was all Daarood men. As far as they were concerned...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The real touching moments in A Man of Good Hope are not the readily obvious ones of large and spectacular losses. They come, instead, in the smaller personal memories that Asad holds dear. These observations underscore his refugee status better than any grander events can.   (Reviewed by Poornima Apte).

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Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

For truly capturing the power of dreams and the resilience of human nature, this book deserves a wide audience.

Library Journal

Important for readers interested in conflicts in Africa.

Booklist

Steinberg himself retraces some of Asad’s steps, and his caring, questioning prose illuminates how, after all Asad has endured and all he remembers, he can still be a man who carries hope with him. A remarkable story, skillfully etched.

Publishers Weekly

Steinberg's thoughtful approach and Asad's attitude of droll resilience make for a tale that any reader can appreciate.

Author Blurb Alexandra Fuller, author of Scribbling the Cat
What a brave, important book. Steinberg’s writing is so human, so humane and so honest. . . . Steinberg’s central question is one for all of us: what does it means to live a ‘fully human life’ and whom among us has either the courage or the luck to live that life?

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Beyond the Book

The Hawala System

Money and HandsIn A Man Of Good Hope, many monetary transactions are carried out by the informal system known as hawala. At its most basic, hawala is a method of money transfer that is used to send remittances without using standard channels such as banks. While the system made headlines shortly after 9-11, where it was alleged that hawala was used to make money transfers to the terrorists (an allegation that was later disproved), hawala has been around since the Middle ages. First developed in India, it is now popular across South Asia and many parts of the Middle East and Africa.

How does a hawala transfer work? For the sake of this tutorial let's assume the following four fictional characters: Vivek Patel, working in the United States, an ...

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