In Yasmeen Maxamuud’s novel, Nomad Diaries, Maxamuud tells the story of an upper-class Somali woman, Nadifo, who comes to Minneapolis as a refugee in the mid-1990s during a time of civil unrest in Somalia. Maxamuud highlights the challenges Somali women face as they transition to life in America as the story follows Nadifo and her family’s life.
Maxamuud tackles a range of complex issues the women of the book face: interpersonal relationships (including polygamy, marital infidelity, abuse, and rape), generational differences, educational attainment, race relations, and economic freedom, to name a few. These issues are presented as the women navigate differing cultural expectations of identity from their Somali and American environments.
The novel, which clocks in at an epic length of 454 pages, quickly drew me in to the profound challenges and circumstances faced by so many immigrant groups in the United States, especially issues surrounding generational assimilation and shifting cultural beliefs and lifestyles. While I am familiar with contemporary Asian fiction and memoir that address the challenges of “becoming American,” Nomad Diaries is the first book I have read that looks at the issue from an African refugee Muslim woman’s point of view. Maxamuud here presents an engaging story of a refugee family’s journey to the United States from Somalia.
Nadifo and her granddaughter, Idil, are presented as flawed characters who are driven to accomplish their goals. Nadifo’s early life in the United States is characterized by her contemptuous interpersonal relationships, the saddest instance with one of her daughters—a survivor of rape—whom she cruelly shuns for her “shameful” encounter. By the end of the book, however, Nadifo commits herself to being a present grandmother as she recognizes the damage of her antagonistic relationships—and comes to regret her actions—with her children.
Idil, a successful entrepreneur at 13, recognizes early in life the damaging situations her fellow Somali women face and resolves to not become a “statistic”:
She kept a mental list of the statistics she was not going to become: she was not going to become a pregnant teen, a doomed Gedi woman, a confused Somali girl with no other choice but marriage, and definitely not a young black woman without a future. She was adamant to change her future and began turning her life around at sixteen. She took school seriously, minded her tongue, and saved herself.” (440)
The women of Nomad Diaries are strong, independent women who face their challenging situations with tenacity and a strength of resolve; for Nadifo, her religious practice is a source of strength that is embedded within her everyday life—it is one among the numerous aspects that characterize her, not an aspect that singularly defines her. Islam is not a nuisance or the cause for the afflictions of life, the way Islam is far too often presented by another prominent Somali author. Instead, Islam is the source of peace and strength to carry on with life in a world rife with the damaging cultural expectations women are faced with everyday.
You can purchase Nomad Diaries on Amazon.