Summary and book reviews of The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed

The Fortune Men

A novel

by Nadifa Mohamed

The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed X
The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed
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     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Dec 2021, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Chloe Pfeiffer
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About this Book

Book Summary

Based on a true event, an intimate and harrowing novel about the last man in Cardiff to be sentenced to death.

In Cardiff, Wales in 1952, Mahmood Mattan, a young Somali sailor, is accused of a crime he did not commit: the brutal killing of Violet Volacki, a shopkeeper from Tiger Bay. At first, Mahmood believes he can ignore the fingers pointing his way; he may be a gambler and a petty thief, but he is no murderer. He is a father of three, secure in his innocence and his belief in British justice. But as the trial draws closer, his prospect for freedom dwindles. Now, Mahmood must stage a terrifying fight for his life, with all the chips stacked against him: a shoddy investigation, an inhumane legal system, and, most evidently, pervasive and deep-rooted racism at every step. Under the shadow of the hangman's noose, Mahmood begins to realize that even the truth may not be enough to save him. A haunting tale of miscarried justice, this book offers a chilling look at the dark corners of our humanity.

Shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2021

Kow

[ One ]

Tiger Bay, February 1952

The King is dead. Long live the Queen." The announcer's voice crackles from the wireless and winds around the rapt patrons of Berlin's Milk Bar as sinuously as the fog curls around the mournful street lamps, their wan glow barely illuminating the cobblestones.

The noise settles as milkshakes and colas clink against Irish coffees, and chairs scrape against the black-and-white tiled floor.

Berlin hammers a spoon against the bar and calls out with his lion tamer's bark, "Raise your glasses, ladies and gentlemen, and send off our old King to Davy Jones's Locker."

"He'll meet many of our men down there," replies Old Ismail, "he better write his apologies on the way down."

"I b-b-b-et he wr-wr-wr-ote them on his d-d-d-eathbed," a punter cackles.

Through the rock 'n' roll and spitting espresso machine Berlin hears someone calling his name. "Maxa tiri  ? " he asks as Mahmood Mattan pushes through the crowd at the bar.

"I said, get me ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The narration of The Fortune Men roams freely, often leaving Mahmood behind and dipping into the perspective of Violet or her sister, or briefly into that of a minor character. In its most effective moments, this omniscient narration allows Mohamed to capture the expansiveness of her characters' inner lives: how much love and regret they can harbor; how their personal, individual struggles are magnified, not diminished, by the important events surrounding them. If sometimes the historical facts appear a little too clumsily inserted, and betray the labor of research a little too much, that seems like a reasonable price to pay to be transported to Somaliland, to World War II Britain, to the middle of the Indian Ocean and to Cardiff's cacophonous docks...continued

Full Review Members Only (819 words).

(Reviewed by Chloe Pfeiffer).

Media Reviews

San Francisco Chronicle
The writing carries a depth of humanity that puts the reader right in the shoes of the characters — the clothes they wear, the streets they walk, the emotions they feel.

The Washington Post
There's a natural grandeur to her portrayal of this ordinary man caught in the city's gears. Readers will hear echoes of Dostoevsky and Kafka in her re-creation of this nightmare... . With The Fortune Men, Mohamed has given us a clear vision of so many victims caught in the maw of racist legal systems.

Boston Globe
Provocative and evocative ... A memorable portrait ... Mohamed vividly draws the brawling and diverse tough-luck world of the Cardiff docks.

Financial Times (UK)
A novel on fire, a restitution of justice in prose...The Fortune Men can be read as a comment on 21st-century Britain and its continued troubled legacy of empire, but also as a beautifully judged fiction in its own right—teeming with life, character and humour, and, particularly, evocative of place.

The Guardian (UK)
I read every sentence in total awe.

The Independent (UK)
Based on a real-life case from 1952, The Fortune Men is a masterpiece in storytelling. It tells of Mahmood Mattan, a Somali seaman who was wrongfully convicted of the murder of Lily Volpert and was one of the last men to be executed in Wales. Mohamed's ability to examine the blistering racial injustices of the time is sobering and immense.

Kirkus Reviews
[A]n engrossing and tense story ... From Mahmood's interior monologue to court transcripts to his conversations with Laura, the senses of loss and cruelty are palpable.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Searing ... Mohamed maintains a high level of tension as the tragedy slowly unfolds... . This is a powerful portrayal of an innocent man trapped by a racist system that will resonate with readers familiar with such travesties of justice in the U.S.

The Toronto Star
Searing, affecting and distressingly relevant ... Nadifa Mohamed has crafted a mesmerizing novel that, notwithstanding its historical setting, has disconcerting resonance for the present.

Author Blurb Walter Mosley, author of Devil in a Blue Dress
Nadifa Mohamed's The Fortune Men is a blue's song cut straight from the heart. It tells about the unjust death of an innocent Black man caught up in a corrupt system. Nadifa's masterful evocation of the full life of Mahmood Mattan, the last man executed in Cardiff for a crime he was exonerated for 40 years later, is brought alive with subtle artistry and heartbreaking humanity. In one man's life Mohamed captures the multitudes of homelands, dialects, hopes, and prayers of Somalis, Jews, Maltese and West Indians drawn in by the ships that filled Wales' Tiger Bay in the 1950's, all hoping for a future that eludes Mattan.

Author Blurb Junot Diaz, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
The Fortune Men is that rare novel that breaks your heart and, in so doing, gives you life. Nadifa Mohamed is a revelation - she writes with the fierce compassionate lightning of a truth-teller, lays bare the ghastly colonial condition that afflicts so many of us, where truth cannot overcome injustice. If a novel can be an avenger then The Fortune Men is the one we've all been waiting for.

Author Blurb Kamila Shamsie, author of Home Fire
A writer of great humanity and intelligence. Nadifa Mohamed deeply understands how lives are shaped both by the grand sweep of history and the intimate encounters of human beings.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Multiculturalism and Racism in Tiger Bay, Cardiff, Wales

A bronze statue of a couple and dog symbolizing the arrival of immigrants to Tiger Bay Nadifa Mohamed's novel The Fortune Men takes place in Tiger Bay, the dockland district of the city of Cardiff, Wales. According to the BBC, Tiger Bay, now known as Butetown, is considered Wales' oldest multi-ethnic community and people from over 50 countries have settled there. While she was working on her novel, Mohamed explained in an article for The Guardian that she had become fascinated with the area's diversity: It "nurtured 'multiculturalism' before the word even existed," she wrote. In the 1950s, when The Fortune Men takes place, Bute Road featured "Cypriot barbers, Somali cafes, Jewish pawnbrokers" and "Sam On Wen's Chinese restaurant."

This multiculturalism originated in the early 20th century, when Cardiff was a big global...

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