January 24, 2022

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In Nadifa Mohamed’s Newest, a Man Hangs for a Homicide He Didn’t Commit

In Nadifa Mohamed’s Latest, a Man Hangs for a Murder He Didn’t Commit

THE FORTUNE MEN
By Nadifa Mohamed

Mahmood Hussein Mattan was the final man to be executed by hanging in Cardiff, Wales, in 1952. A seaman from British Somaliland residing in Cardiff, Mattan was wrongfully convicted of the homicide of Lily Volpert, a Jewish shopkeeper and moneylender, within the predominantly immigrant neighborhood of Tiger Bay.

In her third novel, “The Fortune Males,” shortlisted for the Booker Prize, the Somali-British author Nadifa Mohamed returns to this real-life case to discover the centuries-long histories of the British Empire, of Somali presence in Britain, of the nation’s anti-Black violence, of the establishment of jail within the West. It’s a topic near the creator’s coronary heart; Mohamed has in contrast Mattan’s biography to her personal father’s, each service provider sailors who had been born in the identical metropolis and got here to England on the identical age. “You’ll be able to see these younger males who had been thrown into postwar Britain,” she advised The Guardian, “and located humor right here, discovered love right here, discovered terror right here.”

Mohamed balances colonial historical past and violence with the evocative inside lives of Mahmood and Violet Volacki, a fictionalized Volpert. The opening chapters comply with every of their lives in Tiger Bay — a heterogenous neighborhood populated by immigrants from numerous former colonies: West Africans, Maltese, Sikhs, Muslims, Chinese language, Yemenis, Somalis, poor whites — from the times main as much as her homicide via his hanging. Violet by no means married and is the one earnings supplier for her all-female family, which incorporates her sister and niece. Their ancestors had been Russian Jews who got here to Wales within the early Twenties to flee persecution.

Mahmood lives a brief distance from his spouse and three sons, in a boardinghouse with West Indian immigrant seamen, with whom “he has no widespread language, tradition or faith.” There he’s nicknamed “the Ghost” due to his fixed ambling at evening, when — to keep away from police harassment — he has discovered to wander unnoticed. Mahmood’s path to Cardiff started in his teenagers, with a protracted journey from Somaliland right down to South Africa, to a port the place he boarded a service provider navy ship touring across the British Empire. In Cardiff, his marriage to a poor white teenager named Laura meets hostility: “They may solely discover black-walled, squalid locations to hire as a combined couple.” Towards this backdrop, Mohamed brilliantly depicts the complexities of neighborhood inside the Black diaspora, in a area the place Mahmood’s “Somalihood issues to the West Africans and West Indians who take him for an Arab moderately than certainly one of them.”

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