BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Story of Us’ by Hanna Ali

“Some things are better left uncried.”

H

anna Ali’s short story collection ‘The Story of Us’ (published by Market Fifty Four) is one of those special books that takes a special place in the special part of your bookshelf.

‘The Story of Us’ was first published in Somali and only recently came out in English. Hanna Ali is Somali woman and she currently lives in London. I had the great chance to meet her at the Bare Lit Festival this May in London, and to hear her talk about her book and the publication process behind it. Interestingly, she wrote the stories in English, had them translated into Somali (since she said that her command of the Somali language would not do justice to the words) and had the stories published in her mother-country’s language first. When I heard that, I was absolutely blown away. After buying the book on the spot at the festival, I could not wait to start reading it. My expectations were extremely high and Ali effortlessly outdid them by a mile!

Somali women are more than just a stereotype

This short story collection sheds light on womanhood from a Somali perspective. It follows different women in different places, all facing their own obstacles, but all united in their ‘Somaliness’ and the uniqueness that comes with it.

The stories contain so much criticism and love for Somalia and its people at the same time, which is something that only someone who has been a deeply rooted, personal, and inextricable part of it can conceive and put on paper.

Problems such as body image, relationships with parents, or troubled marriages, which are not directly linked to the refugee experience, are as pervasive in the stories as they would be in stories about Europeans. This goes to show that even though most Somali families have at least one member in their family who has experienced what it is like to be a refugee, they are not only refugees. Somalians are also regular humans. They have problems like everybody else. A Somali woman is as deep and layered and nuanced as any other woman. Somali women don’t just talk about FGM all day, they have troubled marriages, body image issues, and anything else in-between, too. Somali women are more than a stereotype, and Hanna Ali leaves no doubt about that.

Patriarchy, Immigration, Cultural Preservation and Belonging

In these stories, Ali touches upon issues of patriarchy, immigration, cultural preservation, and belonging. While she creates three-dimensional Somali women, who are more than just a stereotype, she never loses sight of the fact that these women’s lives are inextricably linked to Somalia’s history, the war, the violence, and the fleeing. All of these issues are shown to affect the generations involved and those that come after.

The language in this collection is stunningly lyrical, heart-wrenchingly musical, and unforgivingly real. Ali successfully interweaves pain with love and happiness. She makes the women in the stories come alive in a very short amount of lines. The language was touching, visceral, poetic. I’m not sure I can do it justice with my comparably limited way with words.

Hanna Ali is a true poet. The best way to experience her skill is to read the stories in ‘The Story of Us’, and I promise that you will not be disappointed.

“It took ten years to become a Swede and for good behaviour, we were rewarded with a nationality that would open up the borders we crawled through, sneaked into and hid from.”