Summary and book reviews of Call Me American by Abdi Nor Iftin

Call Me American

A Memoir

by Abdi Nor Iftin

Call Me American by Abdi Nor Iftin X
Call Me American by Abdi Nor Iftin
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  • Published:
    Jun 2018, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Cynthia C. Scott

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Book Summary

The incredible true story of a boy living in war-torn Somalia who escapes to America--first by way of the movies; years later, through a miraculous green card.

Abdi Nor Iftin first fell in love with America from afar. As a child, he learned English by listening to American pop artists like Michael Jackson and watching films starring action heroes like Arnold Schwarzenegger. When U.S. marines landed in Mogadishu to take on the warlords, Abdi cheered the arrival of these real Americans, who seemed as heroic as those of the movies.

Sporting American clothes and dance moves, he became known around Mogadishu as Abdi American, but when the radical Islamist group al-Shabaab rose to power in 2006, it suddenly became dangerous to celebrate Western culture. Desperate to make a living, Abdi used his language skills to post secret dispatches to NPR and the Internet, which found an audience of worldwide listeners. But as life in Somalia grew more dangerous, Abdi was left with no choice but to flee to Kenya as a refugee.

In an amazing stroke of luck, Abdi won entrance to the U.S. in the annual visa lottery, though his route to America--filled with twists and turns and a harrowing sequence of events that nearly stranded him in Nairobi--did not come easily. Parts of his story were first heard on the BBC World Service and This American Life. Now a proud resident of Maine, on the path to citizenship, Abdi Nor Iftin's dramatic, deeply stirring memoir is truly a story for our time: a vivid reminder of why western democracies still beckon to those looking to make a better life.

From Chapter Five: Arabic to English

By December of 1992, the world could no longer sit back and watch the starvation in Somalia. Humanitarian aid had been coming in for months but the warlords grabbed all the food and medicine for themselves and gave none to the people. The situation got worse until finally the United Nations decided to take action. Led by the U.S., twenty-eight countries organized a military task force called Operation Restore Hope. The goal was to supervise the distribution of food and supplies.

In Somalia we call Americans Mareekan. When I heard these Mareekan were coming to Mogadishu, I asked my mom who they were. I didn't know the people in the action movies were Mareekan. "They are huge, strong, white people," she said. "They eat pork, drink wine, and have dogs in their houses."

This sounded like the people I had seen in the movies. Whoever they were, the militias looked worried about their arrival. Many rebels started burying their guns; some fled Mogadishu...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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.   (Reviewed by Cynthia C. Scott).

Full Review Members Only (584 words).

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Written in limpid prose, Iftin's extraordinary saga is not just a journey of self-advancement but a quest to break free from ethnic and sectarian hatreds.

Booklist
Starred Review. Absolutely remarkable and always as compelling as a novel… An essential immigrant story, one that is enlightening and immediate.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. A searing memoir filled with horrors that impressively remains upbeat, highly inspiring, and always educational.

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Beyond the Book

Qat

As a young boy growing up in war-torn Mogadishu, the capital of the East African country of Somalia, Abdi Nor Iftin and his brother Hassan often looked for enterprising ways to support their family. They stumbled onto a lucrative business when they started selling the qat leaves they gathered from the ground around market stalls or stole from trucks transporting the crop. But a nasty run-in with the local militiamen who were the main buyers of this crop, ended this enterprise.

So what is qat? It's a plant native to the Horn of Africa and the Arabian peninsula. It is also known as khat, gat, and miraa. Qat (pronounced "cot") is a multibillion dollar industry and a public health epidemic. Its leaves, when chewed and stored in the cheek, ...

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