The One with the Somali Juliet

Fartumo Kusow, Tale of a Boon’s Wife (2017) 

It feels like a first novel, and it feels like something close to the author’s heart so I don’t want to be overly critical.

There are many things I liked about this novel: it taught me stuff about Somalia, that there is a cast system like in India and that people are discouraged to marry across cast boundaries. That there was some prosperity and peace in this country somewhere in the 1970s or 1980s and that the government tried to abolish the cast system. I liked Idil, the main character of this novel, and I liked her pluckiness as a girl, her fidelity to her beliefs and her love as a grown woman and as a wife and mother, her courage in front of the ever darkening adversity. She does not mop around, she picks herself up and moves forward.

It is a very emotional book and while some things go as wrong as you would predict it, some things go even worse. Most readers will be drawn to Idil early on, because she is so relatable to our Western thoughts and she doesn’t understand why she should be inferior to men and marry according to their wishes and to the cast system instead of marrying for love. She is from the upper class / aristocratic caste (Bliss) and she falls in love with a young man from the lowest class possible, the Boons. We get to care about her and it’s tough to read all the hardships she goes through. It felt too much, but I guess it’s only fair game given the recent Somali history. The most heartbreaking characters are those of Idil’s mother and Idil’s sister-in-law, who have internalized the traditions and prejudices and who are blaming other women for men infidelities, or justifying decisions that are detrimental to themselves with fatalism. I wish these two characters would have been portrayed with more subtlety.

The biggest weakness of the book is in the ending, in my opinion, that feels hurried and rather illogical. Baddies in this book are really evil, and it makes no sense that Idil would fall into every trap of theirs. Despite these few problems, I still wanted to read until the last page and that’s a good enough sign.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher Second Story Press for the review copy.

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