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ILB author spotlight: Nadifa Mohamed

Nadifa Mohamed reads from her latest novel "The Orchard of Lost Souls", in which she uses the family as a prism for big power machinations in Somalia (Sep 12, 21:00, Berliner Festspiele).

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Photo by Sabreen Hussain (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Somalian-British novelist Nadifa Mohamed garnered critical acclaim for her first novel, 2010’s Black Mamba Boy, written in collaboration with her father and exploring his experiences in colonial Yemen during the 1930s and 40s. Her second novel, 2013’s The Orchard of Lost Souls, earned her a spot on British literary magazine Granta’s prestigious “Best Young British Novelists” list and follows three women in Somalia as the country hovers on the brink of civil war. Hear her reading from it as part of the ‘Literatures of the World’ section of the festival on September at 9pm at Berliner Festspiele.

Describe your first memory of writing…

Image for ILB author spotlight: Nadifa Mohamed

My father used to tell me to write for him when I was little: 100 words on pandas, 100 words on oceans. Words and language was a strong part of our relationship and eventually led to us working on Black Mamba Boy together.

The three Ws: Where, When, Why do you write?

I write at home, in isolation, usually in the late afternoon or evening, to exorcise all the images and stories in my mind.

Describe the genesis of your books…

I start with music, at the moment I’m listening to a lot of songs by Eartha Kitt and the Inkspots. I have a lot of notes and research that I weave into the main body of the novel, which is based on a real murder.

Worst praise/favourite criticism about your work?

The one that makes me laugh was that my second novel was “part Bible, part Brecht, and part soap opera” from a German critic.

Books and politics: what should the connection be? What makes writers good/bad activists?

I think writers are obliged to think hard and to tell the truth, when you do that you hopefully contribute to a more compassionate and honest society.

Your favourite literary character. Why?

I love picaresque novels so characters who take on many lives always grab my attention.

A book you wish you had written…

Waiting for the Wild Beasts to Vote by Ahmadou Kourouma.

Best recent read…

The Infidel Within by Humayan Ansari about the Muslim presence in Britain from the 1770s onwards.

Choose an epitaph…

“Oh soul, go run to your homeland and look for it where you knew it” by Somali composer and lyricist, Hudeydi.

A question you wish we’d asked…

I think you were pretty thorough…

Berlin: the first thing that comes to mind?

A character from my book, who arrived in Hamburg in 1905 as part of Carl Hagenbeck’s human zoos, and kept the nickname ‘Berlin’ for the rest of his life.