Book Review

The Last Nomad

The Last Nomad: Coming of Age in the Somali Desert

  • Author: Shugri Said Salh
  • Genre: Autobiography
  • Publication Date: August 3, 2021
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books

Thank you to libro.fm for providing me with an ALC of this book. I am offering my honest opinion voluntarily. You can get this book and support indie bookstores here.

CONTENT WARNING: death of a parent, female genital mutilation, blood, abuse, excrement, molestation, gun violence, murder, trauma, mention of rape

Rating: 5 out of 5.

“I am the last nomad. My ancestors traveled the East African desert in search of grazing land for their livestock, and the most precious resource of all—water. When they exhausted the land and the clouds disappeared from the horizon, their accumulated ancestral knowledge told them where to move next to find greener pastures. They loaded their huts and belongings onto their most obedient camels and herded their livestock to a new home.”

When Shugri Said Salh was six years old, she was sent to live with her nomadic grandmother in the desert, away from the city of Mogadishu. Leaving behind her house, her parents, her father’s multiple wives, and her many siblings, she would become the last of her family to learn a once-common way of life. The desert held many risks, from drought and hunger to the threat of predators, but it also held beauty, innovation, and centuries of tradition. Shugri grew to love the freedom of roaming with her goats and the feeling of community in learning the courtship rituals, cooking songs, and poems of her people. She was even proud to face the rite of passage that all “respectable” girls undergo in Somalia, a brutal female circumcision.

In time, Shugri would return to live with her siblings in the city. Ultimately, the family was forced to flee as refugees in the face of a civil war—first to Kenya, then to Canada, and finally to the United States. There, Shugri would again find herself a nomad in a strange land, learning to navigate everything from escalators to homeless shelters to, ultimately, marriage, parenthood, and nursing school. And she would approach each step of her journey with resilience and a liveliness that is all her own.

At once dramatic and witty, The Last Nomad tells a story of tradition, change, and hope.

I had just started reading this when the topic of reviewers not being able to identify with characters who differ from them resurfaced on bookstagram and book twitter. This is an issue that I’ve always struggled with, mainly because I have a tendency to identify with the emotions that characters experience. And as well all know, emotions are universal. This idea stuck in my head the entire time that I listened to this audiobook — and while my lived experiences have absolutely NOTHING in common with the brave author of this book, I could identify with her emotions fully. As the author herself states early on:

“Stories have always created understanding and connections between humans.  In this era of great misunderstanding, I wish to help reign us back into our shared humanity.”

In my opinion, she did exactly this with her story. The very first thing that I noticed was the way the narrator, Waceke Wambaa, was able to convey so much joy at simple things through the telling of this story. Her lyrical accent and strong delivery made her the perfect narrator for this story. It was written in such an incredibly vivid way that transported me to the deserts of Somalia, and left me feeling as though I was right there with the author as she experienced a life unlike anything I could ever imagine living. 

Shugri tells her story of growing up torn between her nomadic roots and living in villages and cities. She recounts tales of her childhood, and does so with humor and wit. I loved hearing about her mischievous ways, and I could just imagine her eyes sparkling as she cooked up her next scheme. 

There’s a lot of pain in her life, but there’s also so much joy. While most of the story takes place in the past, there are also some sections that talk about her life now and how different it is. I got the distinct sense that no matter how accustomed to her current life she became, she never took it for granted and stopped marveling over it. It brings a newfound sense of wonder to my own life and forced me to think about the things that I take for granted. 

When the author spoke about how storytelling is a tradition in Somalia, I could truly understand what she meant. Shugri Said Salh is a true storyteller in every sense of the word — crafting a tale I couldn’t put down, and making it so relatable. This is absolutely a book that shouldn’t be missed, and I honestly hope to read more by this amazing woman!

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