The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed

The Fortune Men
by Nadifa Mohamed

A colleague recommended this book to me and oh my, do I owe them BIG now! The Fortune Men is devastating in every way. The story, without question, is a profound lesson in the paradoxes and insidiousness of racism, the tragedy of putting faith in a prejudiced judicial system, how thin the line is between life and death, past and future, the awfulness of history.

The novel revolves around a young Somali man who has found his way to Britain and built a life for himself there, complete with a wife and children. He is an ordinary man, a flawed man, but not a bad man; his morals are imperfect but not malicious. In his Welsh town, there is a sundry shop, owned and run by a Jewish woman. She is murdered. He is arrested. The novel spins from that point around his trial and his incarceration.

The details of the crime and his arrest are revealed, it becomes clear that things are not so black and white, literally and figuratively, according to the shade of his skin. In this Welsh neighborhood, there has been the recent in flux of many immigrants: those from the Caribbean — coming off the HMS Windrush — as well others like him, from Somalia, parts of West Africa, Nigeria, South Asians from India, Pakistan. There are Jews, Muslims, Christians. And then there are the White Welsh and English. The only thing they seem to have in common is their denizenship in a working class milieu: they are each trying to survive in their own ways, struggling with the constraints put upon them by their race, the color of their skin, their gender.

Mohamed’s prose weaves together the multiple layers of this crime, both the murder and the crime of injustice via complex characters who each come to this place armed with their own ambitions and hampered by their past experiences; they are as flawed as the main protagonist — and like him, we can see that they are not truly “bad” people, but merely making decisions based on the ethnic, racial, and class based expectations put on them. Reader, you will weep for all the characters in The Fortune Men, for they are as trapped as the prisoner in his cell.

It is hard to write a review of this book without giving away its ending, because its ending is really the beginning of the question that led to its creation. It is based on a true story, which is what makes this even more tragic and heart-rending.

All I can say is: You must read this. You must weep for the man, the woman, his wife, his children, the families torn apart by the events that took place in 1952-1953 in this small Welsh town. And you must be angry.

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