I often dream of home. It is a place that exists only in my imagination: it is my Eden, my Janna. Sometimes I associate it with my father, my mother, my grandmother, my sister, all of whom have rejected me, all of whom I still love…Other times I regard Somalia, my birthplace, as home, as the land where my soul will eventually be laid to rest. Many times home is Kenya or London. But none of these places truly embody home for me. Home is in my hair, my lips, my arms, my thighs, my feet and hands. I am my own home.- Diriye Osman, Fairytales for Lost Children
2017 hasn’t been a great year for me writing review-wise. I’m embarrassed to say that the last time I wrote a review on my blog was in December 2016. However, on that note, I’m happy to begin my reviewing of 2017 with a book that encompasses so many of my interests, and also reminds me why we need diverse books, and why the representations of POC in the diaspora are going to have to be more complex.
In the short stories in Fairytales for Lost Children, Osman’ discusses the African (Somali) diaspora, sexuality, and tradition, among other themes ( at this point, if you haven’t already figured it out, it’s probably good to mention that these fairytales are not for children! There is plenty of sexual content in them). Other important themes include love, breakup, tragedy, and family.
One of my favourite stories was the titular “Fairytales for Lost Children” which featured the kind of teacher I wish I’d had in primary school: Miss Mumbi:
Even Story Time was political. Miss Mumbi infused each story with Kenyan flavour. She illustrated these remixes on the blackboard. ‘Rapunzel’ became ‘Rehema,’ a fly gabar imprisoned in Fort Jesus. Rehema had an Afro that grew and grew…Her Afro became so strong that it burst through the fort.
I really like reading about different diasporas, and this book gave me a lot of info about the Somali diaspora, particularly in Africa and the UK. A couple of the stories speak to living in limbo:
Every day I asked Hooyo, “When’re we heading home?”
“Soon,” she’d sigh, ‘Soon.”
The precariousness of life for groups in the diaspora was definitely very poignant, and it makes sense that the word “fairytale” is in the title, because fairytales can be an escape from the tough realities of life. One reality is not being wanted by the society one lives in:
My waalid may have reinvented themselves but to the booliis we were still refugee bastards who sucked on Nanny State’s iron teats until there was nothing left for her legitimate children.
Sexuality is definitely a huge theme, and all the protagonists in the story are gay. This allows Osman to explore their relationships with their more traditional and conservative environments. There was one excerpt that talked about how in Somalia being gay is likened to being possessed, mentally unstable, and there are stories were gay Somalis are disowned by their family. But the reality is there are gay Somalis, and those like Osman are working hard to share their stories and experiences:
The Prophet once said that dreams are a window into the unseen. I have been told many times by family, friends, colleagues and strangers that I, a black African Muslim lesbian, am not included in this vision; that my dreams are a reflection of my upbringing in a decadent, amoral Western society that has corrupted who I really am. But who am I, really? Am I allowed to speak for myself or must my desires form the battleground for causes I do not care about?
What I’ve found about being part of the African diaspora, and what Osman also managed to illustrate (focusing on queer characters) is how the diaspora is a tricky space to inhabit and navigate. There’s always the question of deciding how to create one’s identity when straddling two or more cultures. Definitely a great collection of short stories to give me a glimpse into how others in the diaspora live.
On a sidenote, I enjoyed looking at Osman’s artwork in his book; it’s wonderful:
There is plenty of gorgeous photography on his website too: http://www.diriyeosman.com/