This collection of short stories, written by the Somali author Ahmed Ismail Yusuf, takes the reader into the heart of the Somali caste system. If one has read Arundhati Roy, one would now about the devastation caused by civil wars that had had their roots in a system of casts and religion. But how many people know of the events on our continent that are so chillingly similar?
These stories are deceptively simple. They combine folk tales with everyday events – boys and girls who develop crushes, boys who play soccer and girls who adore poetry… Yet, underneath these storylines lies a web of inter- and intratextual references that combine seemingly haphazard narratives into a tightly-knit unity.
The first story is of a boy who has to face up to wild animals in order to protect his family’s goats and sheep. Then the scene changes: We are transported into the heart of the ongoing caste system in Somalia and we experience first-hand how people conduct themselves worse than any predator ever would, for the ills in Somali society gave way to a civil war that to this day has not been resolved. The stories remain personal, though: A mother tries to save her twin boys on the eve of Somalia’s collapsed state; a newlywed woman tries to save her sister from being raped by soldiers…
Yet, despite the horrors, the author finds beauty in simple, everyday moments. Boys and girls still fall in love. A teacher who has endured the shameful legacy of her outcast heritage encourages a young scholar to understand Somali poetry.
Ahmed Yusuf does not shy away from tragedy, instead he explores both the human limits of endurance and the human limits of love.
Somali folklore flows freely in and out of the fibres of these stories.
In the last story a boy, who flees from the civil war, befriends a lion. Not only does it complete the story cycle, it yet again draws on an old folktale.
Ahmed Ismail Yusuf’s simple narratives belie the fact that he is a masterful storyteller. This book is a must for all those who have appreciated Arundhati Roy’s novel The ministry of utmost happiness.
In the United States The Lion’s Binding Oath and Other Stories has already been awarded a Kirkus Star, one of the highest honours a book can receive.