Summary and book reviews of The Last Nomad by Shugri Said Salh

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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  • Published:
    Aug 2021, 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 ...
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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.

Media Reviews

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.

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