2021 Booker Prize Longlist: The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed

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2021 Booker Prize Longlist: The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed

Ago 6, 2021, 12:16 pm

This thread is for discussion of The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed. No unhidden spoilers, please.

Set 15, 2021, 4:48 pm

The setting for this novel is Tiger Bay, a dockside neighborhood in the current Welsh capital of Cardiff that is filled with a rich blend of people from several dozen countries across the world. One of its residents was Mahmood Mattan, a man in his late 20s who was born in British Somaliland and emigrated to Cardiff after the end of World War II, in order to pursue a better life in the Mother Country whose ideals he admires and embraces. Mattan was gainfully employed as a longshoreman and a seaman upon his arrival in Cardiff, but after he suffered an injury he took on odd jobs that did not pay well. He wooed and married a young Welsh woman with whom he had three young boys, but after he became an unreliable provider and engaged in petty crime his wife divorced and left him, although she still loved Mahmood and believed in him.

Mattan was a man of few words, who was inscrutable and untrustworthy, and he had no close friends, even amongst his fellow Somali.

On 6 March 1952 a shopkeeper, Violet Volacki, was brutally murdered in her shop by a man who appeared to be Somali, according to witnesses, although no one saw the crime take place. The police engaged in a sweeping manhunt, and on the basis of a shoddy investigation, his past criminal history, and unreliable witnesses motivated by a sizable reward, Mattan was arrested and charged with the murder. He is outraged at being accused of a violent crime he did not commit, yet certain that the British justice system, which he views as fair and unbiased toward all of its citizens, will quickly exonerate him.

The case comes to trial, to Mattan’s surprise, but he remains confident that the true murderer will be found by the authorities, and that he will soon be freed, and be able to put his life back together and return to the wife and sons he cherishes.

The Fortune Men is a powerful and evocative novel, which paints a rich portrait of its characters, and of Tiger Bay, the city of Cardiff, and the failures of a British society which showed little concern or respect to the African and Caribbean immigrants whose love of the motherland was not returned to them. Nadifa Mohamed spent 20 years researching and writing this book, and its attention to detail was quite apparent to this reader. It is a deserving choice for this year’s Booker Prize shortlist, and I would not be disappointed if it won the award.