Date Read: January 7th 2016
Published: September 2013
Publisher: Team Angelica Press
Fairytales For Lost Children is narrated by people constantly on the verge of self-revelation. These characters – young, gay and lesbian Somalis – must navigate the complexities of family, identity and the immigrant experience as they tumble towards freedom. Using a unique idiom rooted in hip-hop, graphic illustrations, Arabic calligraphy and folklore studded with Kiswahili and Somali slang, these stories mark the arrival of a singular new voice in contemporary fiction.
Review – ★★★★★ (5 stars)
Is it too early to already know my favorite book of the year? Fairytales For Lost Children just might be the best book I’ve read this year. I read two stories a day from this collection, to adequately absorb everything in little bits. I even smoothed the velvet-textured book cover against my cheeks after reading some of the stories (no, I’m not a weirdo… maybe a little haha). And when I was done reading Fairytales For Lost Children, I wanted more. I need Diriye Osman to write a full novel soon!
This collection of short stories is raw, erotic, sassy, vivid, devastating and most importantly, liberating. These stories are set in modern day Somalia, Kenya and London. The characters of these stories just want to be loved for who they are. They desire to live their lives free from hate, criticism, and scrutiny, while trying to understand the intersectionalities of their own identities.
There are eleven stories in this collection and I loved how Diriye Osman precedes each story with his beautiful artwork, which visually summarizes each tale. Osman also incorporates lots of Neo-Soul (my ultimate favorite music genre) and old school Hip-Hop music into the stories. He refers to Meshell Ndegeocello’s 2002 soul album, Comfort Woman in about three of the stories, so I just had to purchase that album after I read this collection! Osman also blends languages like Somali, Arabic and Swahili into these stories, which make them feel authentic. I deeply enjoyed each and every one of the stories (which is rare for a short stories collection – there are always one or two stories I don’t care for) but my faves were:
‘Shoga‘ – This tale was pretty explicit but entertaining and heartbreaking at the same time. A displaced seventeen year old Somali boy lives with his grandmother, Ayeeyo, in Kenya. He falls in love with Boniface – the domestic help who is a refugee from Burundi. After enjoying many nights of listening to Bob Marley, smoking marijuana and sleeping with Boniface in his quarters, this seventeen year old later has to deal with the consequences of his pleasures by facing his grandmother – before her time is up.
‘Earthling‘ – This is a story that follows Somali-Brit – Zeytun, who suffers from psychosis and deeply desires love from her family – more so, from her sister. Her only family and support system is her girlfriend, Mari, who admirably stands by Zeytun and aids in her mental and emotional healing. The love exhibited between this lesbian couple was eye-opening and comforting to me.
‘Your Silence Will Not Protect You‘ – This story is preceded by Diriye Osman’s artwork that actually looks like a portrait of himself (he’s the man on the book cover by the way!), so I’m assuming this tale is loosely based on his personal story. Osman boldly narrates the series of events that lead to him coming out to his family, and how he boldly deals with the pain of rejection.
‘The Other (Wo)man‘ – I’ve never read a story like this before. Yassin is a young, twenty-two year old Somali man living in London, pursuing his art degree and is ready to start dating. He meets a middle-aged, British-Jamaican man who works as an army pilot on a dating website (Gaydar) and they go on a couple of dates. But one night, Yassin realizes that the British-Jamaican man’s fetishes not only offend him, but actually push him to maybe trying something he never thought he’d consider. This coming-of-age tale had me sooo worried. But I loved observing Yassin as he strived to understand his ever evolving identities.
My favorite quote from ‘The Other (Wo)man‘ as Yassin takes a walk towards Peckham Rye:
He felt his sense of Somaliness slipping away from him and he was afraid of letting it go, afraid of the moral, psychological and social anarchy its loss threatened to create within him. But at the same time, what was he really hanging onto? A sense of social allegiance? But wouldn’t he be automatically excluded from his community because of his sexual orientation wherever his own allegiance lay? He didn’t belong to just one society: he was gay, Somali, Muslim, and yet all these cultural positions left him excluded… He was Somali first, Muslim second, gay third. But perhaps that hierarchy was only a matter of timing: born Somali, raised Muslim, discovered gay. And now he was venturing out into the world without a sense of his place within it and this frightened him. Yet he realized that he couldn’t mourn what was lost but instead had to consider what was to be gained. He knew he would never belong but did he really want to? (pg. 137)
This collection of short stories is probably the best LGBTQ-themed African fiction out there. I totally understand why Diriye Osman won The Polari First Book Prize back in 2014. Osman’s writing style is bold and fearless and I believe this collection is a priceless gem among the myriad of African fiction novels around. Please read this if you get the chance! And try not to judge the characters in the stories; just immerse yourself in the different happenings of the tales and learn from them. These stories speak volumes on being true to yourself, following your heart and the universal human need to love one another, regardless of sexual orientation, race, occupation, religion. Fairytales For Lost Children must have been liberating to write and I truly admire Diriye Osman as a storyteller and visual artist. Readers around the world will find solace in this work of art – I definitely did! I look forward to reading more of Osman’s work in the future. I’m sure whatever he writes next would be as fierce as this collection.
★★★★★ (5 stars) – Amazing book, I loved it. Absolutely recommend!
- Also!! Read Diriye Osman’s essay published in The Huffington Post (2014): To Be Young, Gay and African
- I really enjoyed this conversation between Diriye Osman and Another Africa, where they discuss Osman’s background, musical influences and his creative process, difficulties he faced in writing this collection, future projects and so much more!
Other Somali writers I plan on reading in the future (click on their names to check out their Goodreads profiles and their collection of work): Nuruddin Farah, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Warsan Shire (Somali-British), Ladan Osman (Somali-American), Nadifa Mohamed (Somali-British).
Purchase Fairytales For Lost Children on Amazon