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Life And Hope In A Conflict Zone

 

The Orchard Of Lost Souls
SAURABH KUMAR SHAHI | New Delhi, December 20, 2013 12:15
Tags : The Orchard Of Lost Souls |
 
Of the civil wars that have shaped the modern course of world history, Africa has sadly had the lion’s share of them in its kitty. It is a record that no one is particularly proud of. However, the only silver lining in this cloud has been a burst of literary talents unparalleled in their skills in the third world. And what is more, while a generation of brilliant writers have documented the agony and triumph of these conflicts, there is already a next generation of writers who have started to see things in retrospect. One such brilliant author is Nadifa Mohamed. 
 
Nadifa, who made it into Granta’s list of best young British novelists this year for her debut work Black Mamba Boy, is the latest to burst on to the scene. In the last few years, authors such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who arrived with a bang with works like Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun and Americanah, and Taiye Selasi with her Ghana Must Go, have shaped the way the world has started to see Africa. Authors like them and Nadifa Mohamed represent a generation of post post-colonial African intellectuals who are not only comfortable with their nation’s past but have actually turned the tables on Orientalists by being vocal about how the rest of the world sees the Anglo-Saxon North mostly rooted in Judeo-Christian civilization. 
 
Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun is a poignant take on the Biafran War that haunts Nigeria even now. For the first time, the world dared to take a peep inside the agony of Africa through the eyes of one of its daughters, and was left stunned. Nadifa Mohamed’s The Orchard of Lost Souls is only going to compound that effect. 
 
Set in Hargeisa, Somalia, in the late 1980s, The Orchard of Lost Souls opens in a drought year when the country is on the brink of civil war. Emboldened by the events unfolding in the region, the rebels have relocated from their hideouts in London to neighbouring Ethiopia. The government finds itself cornered and is understandably jittery. What is not understandable is the way it responds to the possible outbreak of rebellion. Indiscriminate frisking, unannounced and unscheduled power cuts, and banning of radio broadcasts are some of the tools. But an outright brutal crackdown is the most effectively and widely used ones. 
 
It is amidst these circumstances that readers are thrown inside the action. Representing the zeitgeist are three females of varied backgrounds. Deqo, an abandoned street child, Kawsar, a widow who has lost her daughter, who in turn was born after several stillborn children, and Filsan, an over-zealous female soldier loyal to the regime. 
 
Kawsar is dragged to the celebration against her will, something that is common when you live under a tyrannical regime. Deqo, in contrast, is more eager. Riot breaks out and in the ensuing melee Filsan chases Deqo, who in turn is saved by Kawsar. This intermingling of fate is momentary. At least that is what it appears to be at that moment. But their paths crisscross again, several times, under varied circumstances. 
It is through their perspectives that the story is told. There are no black-and-white characters here. There are changing circumstances though.Filsan falls for a young officer who works across her table. When the officer is brutally killed, Filsan starts questioning her support, unwavering support, for the regime. Kawsar’s daughter, on the other hand, had committed suicide in government lockup just a day after she was picked up by the forces. She is understandably heartbroken. But she finds a reason to live. 
 
When their paths cross again, it gives story a new vigour. 
The book is not an easy read. And definitely not for the faint hearted. As far as the narrative is concerned, it is done through different perspectives.In many ways, it is also a story about the breakdown of society. The sheer want of survival defines the human nature in a conflict zone and lines start to get blur. But it is also a story of hope. There are heart-warming incidents too. One might suspect that a balancing act has been artificially induced. But that is not the case. 
 
Some readers might find the ending a bit tepid. Since it’s a happy ending, one starts to feel a tad betrayed. As if a happy ending is a travesty for a story that is such violent and pregnant with poignancy. But that’s one way at looking at it. The way Nadifa sees it need not agree with what we want it to be. 
 
And Nadifa has a knack for doing things differently. Her debut novel, Black Mamba Boy, was also a successful experiment. A fictionalized account of her young father’s survival during Mussolini’s rule made for a compelling reading. It did wake up readers from stupor, and rightly so. The Orchard of Lost Souls takes it to another level. It’s a triumph and a must buy.
 
Author:  Nadifa Mohamed   
Edition: Paperback
ISBN: 978-1-47111-529-5
Pages: 352
Price: Rs 499
Author: Nadifa Mohamed

Edition: Paperback

ISBN: 978-1-47111-529-5

Pages: 352

Price: Rs. 499

Publisher: 978-1-47111-529-5 Pages: Simon & Schuster Pric


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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017