Hamilton's narrative instinct prevails, and a welcome complexity develops as Fi begins to realize that the delivery of books isn't an entirely benign enterprise. When the disfigured boy simply refuses to return his books, his rebellion gives rise to a serious rift that affects not only his family and the tribal elders but Fi herself. An unreturned library book hardly seems like the stuff of massive conflict, but Hamilton makes us see how much is really at stake in a poverty-stricken place where every possession carries the weight of significance. A larger conflict wouldn't do justice to the notion of honor as lived by these people: it extends all the way down to the smallest stack of books.
Clair Dederer - New York Times Book Review
Hamilton's captivating third novel (after 2004's The Distance Between Us) follows Fiona Sweeney, a 36-year-old librarian, from New York to Garissa, Kenya, on her sincere but naïve quest to make a difference in the world. Fi enlists to run the titular mobile library overseen by Mr. Abasi, and in her travels through the bush, the small village of Mididima becomes her favorite stop. There, Matani, the village teacher; Kanika, an independent, vivacious young woman; and Kanika's grandmother Neema are the most avid proponents of the library and the knowledge it brings to the community. Not everyone shares such esteem for the project, however. Taban, known as Scar Boy; Jwahir, Matani's wife; and most of the town elders think these books threaten the tradition and security of Mididima. When two books go missing, tensions arise between those who welcome all that the books represent and those who prefer the time-honored oral traditions of the tribe. Kanika, Taban and Matani become more vibrant than Fi, who never outgrows the cookie-cutter mold of a woman needing excitement and fulfillment, but Hamilton weaves memorable characters and elemental emotions in artful prose with the lofty theme of Western-imposed "education" versus a village's perceived perils of exposure to the developed world.
New York City librarian Fiona Sweeney has taken an unusual assignment in Kenya, running a bookmobile service powered by camel and serving isolated, seminomadic villages like Mididima, where teenaged library customer Kanika lives with her grandmother, Neema. Taban, a young man severely scarred as a toddler by a hyena, is shunned by most of the community, but he and Kanika share a friendship and a sweet anticipation of Sweeney's every visit. Matani, Mididima's schoolmaster, is a champion of the service, but even he can't do anything when several missing books threaten the village's reputation and set off a chain of events that expose misguided motives, hidden agendas, illicit romance, and tragedy. This third novel from international journalist Hamilton (The Distance Between Us) presents a rare and balanced perspective on issues surrounding cultural intrusion and the very meaning and necessity of literacy, using rich and evocative prose that skillfully exposes the stark realities of poverty and charity in today's Africa. Highly recommended for any fiction collection.
Jenn B. Stidham - Library Journal
(Starred review.) With a heartfelt appreciation for the potential of literature to transcend cultural divides, Hamilton has created a poignant, ennobling, and buoyant tale of risks and rewards, surrender and sacrifice.
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