Guardian first book award shortlist: Nadifa Mohamed

Nadifa MohamedPhotograph by Andy HallWhy did you decide to write a novel based on your father’s story of his journey to the UK from Somalia?

  1. Black Mamba Boy
  2. by Nadifa Mohamed
  3. Buy it from the Guardian bookshop

It was the slow realisation that this story had never been told before: the life of an East African street urchin in the early part of the 20th century in all of its adventure and sorrow. The fact that it was my own father’s real journey gave it an incredible power, but I think any life story that included episodes as a streetboy, soldier, farmer, smuggler and sailor would have captured my imagination.


In your foreword you mention the griot tradition. Could you explain what that is and how it fits in with the novel?

Griots are wandering praise-singers who are also the historians and storytellers of their societies. Even though it is a West African tradition, I thought it suited perfectly my father’s story; I wanted a style that would celebrate his life with great literary flourishes rather than objectively describe it. The griot tradition also shares similarities with Somali poetry in their methods of composition and dissemination, and was a natural fit to the wandering, exploratory



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