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The Last Nomad

Coming of Age in the Somali Desert

by Shugri Said Salh

The Last Nomad by Shugri Said Salh X
The Last Nomad by Shugri Said Salh
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2021, 304 pages

    Paperback:
    Jul 2022, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Karen Lewis
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About this Book

Book Summary

"I am the last nomad. My ancestors traveled the East African desert in search of grazing land for their livestock, and the most precious resource of all - water. When they exhausted the land and the clouds disappeared from the horizon, their accumulated ancestral knowledge told them where to move next to find greener pastures. They loaded their huts and belongings onto their most obedient camels and herded their livestock to a new home."

When Shugri Said Salh was six years old, she was sent to live with her nomadic grandmother in the desert, away from the city of Galkayo. Leaving behind her house, her parents, her father's multiple wives, and her many siblings, she would become the last of her family to learn a once-common way of life. The desert held many risks, from drought and hunger to the threat of predators, but it also held beauty, innovation, and centuries of tradition. Shugri grew to love the freedom of roaming with her goats and the feeling of community in learning the courtship rituals, cooking songs, and poems of her people. She was even proud to face the rite of passage that all "respectable" girls undergo in Somalia, a brutal female circumcision.

In time, Shugri would return to live with her siblings in the city. Ultimately, the family was forced to flee as refugees in the face of a civil war—first to Kenya, then to Canada, and finally to the United States. There, Shugri would again find herself a nomad in a strange land, learning to navigate everything from escalators to homeless shelters to, ultimately, marriage, parenthood, and nursing school. And she would approach each step of her journey with resilience and a liveliness that is all her own.

At once dramatic and witty, The Last Nomad tells a story of tradition, change, and hope.

PROLOGUE

I am the last nomad.

How can I be the last one? Nomads still exist in that faraway desert where I grew up, so how can I make such a bold statement? What I am really trying to say is, I am the last person in my direct line to have once lived like that, and now I feel like the sole keeper of my family's stories. As I sit here in my home in California, weaving my tale for you, the weight of that responsibility urges me on. All of my ancestors on both sides of my family were nomads; they traveled the East African desert in search of grazing land for their livestock, and the most precious resource of all—water. When they exhausted the land and the clouds disappeared from the horizon, their accumulated ancestral knowledge told them where to move next to find greener pastures. They loaded their huts and belongings onto their most obedient camels and herded their livestock to a new home.

My nomadic family was at the mercy of the weather. At the end of jilal, the long dry season, ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The author introduces the reader to the Somali proverb, "When an elder dies, a library is burned." In The Last Nomad, Salh tells us that she feels a sense of urgency to archive her family's stories and keep them alive. Does your family or culture have a tradition of oral histories? Why is it important to learn from our elders and earlier generations?
  2. How much did you know about Somalia, nomadic life, and/or the Somali Civil War before reading The Last Nomad? Did the story introduce you to events or lifestyles that you were originally unfamiliar with or to a new perspective? If so, in what ways?
  3. The author was exposed to Somalia's rich oral tradition as a nomad and begins each chapter with a Somali proverb. Did any of these ring true to ...
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Here are some of the comments posted about The Last Nomad.
You can see the full discussion here.


How did a young Salh make sense of the everyday violence and tragedy she witnessed? How did she make sense of her new status as a refugee at the border and in Kenya?
I also do not think war or civil disobedience made sense to her or her family but as others have said this was only going to be a temporary disturbance and their society would return to the normal they knew. But for now they must survive even if ... - carriem

How is a sense of dignity instilled throughout the book?
Salh survived harrowing experiences from a young age, yet learned to respect the cultural traditions of a nation rich in patriarchal beliefs. She chose to learn from these experiences and not be defined exclusively by what happened to her, but ... - julib

In what ways did Salh's father raise her within traditional Somali gender roles, and in what ways did he not? What did you think of his teaching methods?
I don’t believe Salh’s father was genuine with his education of girls. He was very self centered and way too mean to achieve much progress among his students. Also, he would show up inconsistently to do his teaching. - BJHB

In what ways did the nomadic lifestyle give the author an education? How does this lifestyle compare to going to school in a classroom?
The author gained great respect for her beloved ayeeyo when she realized that the nomadic life did not follow basic societal norms, but instead was an intuitive lifestyle influenced by nature, weather cycles, bravery, physical endurance, and survival... - julib

Overall, what did you think of The Last Nomad? (No spoilers in this thread, please)
This memoir is a well written, timely, and informative book about traditional Somali nomads, Somalian customs, the country’s civil war, and resulting mass exodus. At times, it is hard to imagine that Salh’s story takes place in the late ... - janicea

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The narrative is packed with details about nomadic culture, including centuries of endurance shaped by powerful cycles of abundance and drought, transience and settlement. While the author's storytelling is skilled and compelling throughout the book, a reference map and cast of characters would have been useful for readers to follow the twists and turns, relationships and travels described. This memoir will likely spark book group discussions about provocative themes: survival, transience, family ties, cultural tradition, female empowerment, immigration, war and peace, climate change, the power of story, proverbs, ancestral wisdom. As a testimony to human resilience as well as a love letter to Somalia and its people, The Last Nomad delivers accessible insights...continued

Full Review (981 words).

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(Reviewed by Karen Lewis).

Media Reviews

Bookreporter
A fascinating account of the life of a young girl growing up in a nomadic family in Somalia. Reading like a novel, the author provides an account of her life beginning when she was six years old and is sent to live with her nomadic grandmother in the desert. Filled with fascinating details of her culture, I was totally immersed in this amazing memoir.

San Francisco Chronicle
An absorbing attempt to explain, through vivid recollection and compassion for her own personal traumas and triumphs, how it feels to have experienced two such dramatically divergent lives.

Library Journal, starred review
A memoir that demonstrates the power of a young woman to adapt to many difficult changes in life, by an author who was truly inspired by the strength and power of women in her own family. Recommended strongly for all libraries.

Booklist
An illuminating and engaging read...[Salh] offers an important perspective, carefully documenting her experiences and how they reflect geopolitical issues...A thoughtful and resonant celebration of the human spirit.

Kirkus Reviews
Salh offers a cleareyed and moving chronicle of her coming-of-age during a tumultuous time in the history of her native Somalia...A thoughtful look at life in an often misunderstood culture and region.

Publishers Weekly
In this agile personal history of trauma, civil strife, and asylum, debut author Salh vividly describes a youth divided between opposing worlds...Despite the graphic nature of her experiences, Salh's prose radiates with deep empathy and sensitivity, a reflection of the gift for storytelling she inherited from her poet grandmother. This stuns with its raw beauty.

Author Blurb Abdi Nor Iftin, author of Call Me American
A brilliant and riveting book ... The Last Nomad introduces the reader to the real lives in Somalia and the resilience of its people not only inside the nation but beyond.

Reader Reviews

CarolT

Eye-opening
Shugri Said Salh had offered us a chance to see exactly what it was - or is - like to be a nomad in Somalia and then a refugee running from a war. So much to learn!
Barbara

An Abundance of Cultural Knowledge
The Last Nomad is a cultural gem. Living in Somalia as a child, Shugri Said Salh writes about her family life as a nomad with her ayeeyo (grandmother). She also writes about her family relationships: father, mother, sisters, brothers. Life wasn’t ...   Read More
Rebecca

Even Better than I Hoped!
When I first saw a brief synopsis for THE LAST NOMAD, I knew I wanted to read it. I didn't know if it would be a dry, textbook telling of the author's life, but I can honestly say that it was far from dry or textbook; it immediately grabbed my ...   Read More
Sonia Francis

Story teller becomes an archeologist
“Like an archeologist desperately excavating a foreign world, I want to bring the details of my nomadic upbringing to life before it is lost forever “. “ I don’t want the library of my past to die with me”. How lucky for readers like me to have ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Nomadic Housing: Somalia and Beyond

Somali woman building an aqal The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates that in 2020 there were more than 82 million people displaced from their homes due to human rights issues such as violence and persecution worldwide. And, for as long as humans have existed, people have lived as nomads in various parts of the world, including Somalia, as detailed in Shugri Said Salh's memoir The Last Nomad. There are evident and important differences between cultures with traditions of living in nomadic harmony with the seasons (as in Somalia), people being displaced into forced migration or homelessness, and those who are privileged enough to voluntarily choose to live without a fixed home address. However, any of these situations may involve the use of various types of nomadic ...

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