cover image The Orchard of Lost Souls

The Orchard of Lost Souls

Nadifa Mohamed. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26 (352p) ISBN 978-0-374-20914-8

A brutal confrontation in pre–civil war Somalia intertwines three women’s lives in this devastating second novel by Somali-born Mohamed (after Black Mambo Boy), who is named in Granta’s 2013 “Best of Young British Novelists” list. The story opens in 1987 in the city of Hargeisa, as the widow Kawsar and the orphan Deqo prepare for a pro-government rally that all locals are required to attend. Deqo, who is nine, has been promised a new pair of shoes if she dances for the crowd. When Kawsar saves Deqo from a beating for forgetting her dance steps, a female soldier, Filsan, arrests Kawsar and beats her so severely that she can never walk again. As Somalia descends into revolution, Kawsar struggles with her painful memories; little Deqo survives on the streets, selling stolen fruit and sleeping in a barrel; and duty-bound Filsan’s career unravels along with the country. The three women’s paths, perhaps a tad too coincidentally, cross again later, and they take refuge together behind the “grief-blue walls” of Kawsar’s home near the titular orchard. Mohamed is a lyrical writer, and although her material could easily be exploited, she does not so much milk it for emotion as elevate it to a kind of searing poetry. Agent: Ben Mason, Fox Mason Ltd. (Mar.)