I am ashamed to say that one of the very few things I knew about Djibouti was where it is situated. I realize the country rarely makes the news. Passage of Tears by Abdourahman A. Waberi made me interested in this small nation and its people. “And what was Djibouti originally?… A handful of magic little islands over which history rose and swirled like a hurricane for centuries?”
In all honesty this book was both fantastic and awkward, insightful and weird, entertaining and repelling. There are many books out there I enjoy and love, and many other readers find weird and unlikable. The same happens to me quite often while reading a highly acclaimed book. I sometimes just do not get why people love and adore some books.
The plot is interesting. A Djiboutian man returns to his home country after many years in Canada. He’s on a quest for intelligence for an oil company. The protagonist, Djibril, is being followed, and someone knows his every move. His life’s in danger. Djibril is reminiscing about days gone by, his childhood in Djibouti. He has good memories about his Jewish friend, and many sad memories of his Islamist extremist twin brother Djamal.
The plot is captivating, and if the book had been written in a style that appeals to me, I would have loved this book. What bothered me was that the author had mix all possible styles into this shortish novel. Even though I know and understand that Islam is important in Djibouti I found that chapters like “Azan, the call to prayer” do not belong in a novel like this.
My favourite parts take the reader back to the protagonist’s childhood. The other parts I like takes the reader back even further: “Once upon a time there were twelve cities blessed twelve times over. Twelve cities which had been endowed with all the favours of earth by the grace of The Compassionate… Our ancestors had the clear feeling that God had assembled those twelve cities to see them accomplish extraordinary actions or experience an exemplary decline. Little by little, they lost their splendour”.
Flipping through the book I find new angles, and I realize how beautifully it is written. If I could take my favourite parts of this book and only read them, it would be an excellent book! The mixing of too many genres is a bit confusing, but makes it somehow more poetic and philosophical. I even like the way Waberi writes about religious fundamentalism. It’s different in many ways. To understand what I mean you simply have to read this book.