The Story of Us by Hanna Ali (Book Review)
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Hanna Ali has always been a writer
Writing poetry at age 10, it's no surprise that she would be shortlisted for the London Short Story Prize in 2016. She is currently a teaching fellow and Ph.D candidate at the SOAS University of London ("the only Higher Education institution in Europe specialising in the study of Asia, Africa and the Near and Middle East"). In 2017, she published The Story of Us with Market Fifty Four, which launched in October of that year. She will be the first contemporary writer to be translated and published in Somali, her native language.
The Story of Us (Sheekadii Noloshayada) is a collection of 4 short stories about womanhood from a Somali perspective. Each story follows a different woman's life experiences, from being trapped in a terrible marriage, to a young girl reflecting on a breakup. Some of the women have lived through harsh war and are living the continual terror of "otherness". Ali is able to embody each of these women to give a view of what Blackness is as an immigrant, a refugee, and a survivor.
A Collection of Women
I loved this collection. Ali uses her heritage as the scaffolding for us to stand on, and then builds these powerful stories around us. They each felt as if the narrator was talking directly to me in a tactful but direct way. The reader was always the only one in the room and must take on the burdens of the writer. Each incredibly thoughtful in a way I wasn't expecting. I thought I might like one or two stories. But I loved them all.
Of the 4 stories, "Sharmarke" was my favorite because it was the most different from the other three. It was short (it might be the shortest) but it felt like a contained story. There were just enough words to feel engulfed by her writing. This is the only one set in Somalia and has a rural feel to it. Ali doesn't skirt around the issues or make something horrible sound bearable. You could feel the pain close to the surface in this one, but again, a faithful rendition of Black womanhood.
As for the others, I thought they could have been snippets from the same book, maybe at different times in one character's life. The women were different, but from my perspective they didn't have to be. Each story showed a form of bravery that stood to the testament of Ali's writing and the kind of women she wanted to introduce to her audience. I wanted more.
Ali's writing is sharp because of its honesty. She shows different aspects of bravery through these stories and I would recommend The Story of Us.
I hope Ms. Ali has a novel in the works soon because I would love to see what she can do with 200 pages. Until then, I'll be reading The Story of Us again and again. You can purchase it from Market Fifty Four.
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