Michael Conrad Wood, who lives in Knysna, published his debut novel Warm Heart in 2008. He has now turned a critical eye to Somalia – a failed state which is in the news for all the wrong reasons – connections to al Qaeda’s terror network, refugee camps, drought, and piracy. In such a malevolent environment, what chance that love could flourish?
The night I killed Ishmail, I was changed forever.
While he fumbled his way through that vicious attempt to rape, he opened a deep vein of savagery in me which obviously had never been exposed before, but perhaps exists, subdued, in all of us. Although slow to awaken, a powerful inner voice told me that fierce resistance was a better antidote to the attack than the passivity which some people advocate, and which I had first thought to be the most sensible reaction to his assault. Yet as I sat astride that mortally wounded apology for a man, his bloodied dagger still tight in my grip, the surge of energy which I’d experienced, suddenly flowed out of me and I was drained.
Even as the boots crashed into my face and kicked at my belly I felt only relief and pleasure at what I had done. They would kill me, I was sure of that. On my knees, I remember spitting out a piece of tooth and swallowing blood before one of the men forcefully thrust his rifle butt against my throat. I had seen the blow coming but by then, given the beating already handed out by that circle of baying baboons, my senses were tortuously slow to respond. The force of it knocked me sideways, back into the dirt. I could barely breathe. Gasping for air, I remained just alert enough to hear their leader’s.
Somali Kiss is a gripping page-turner with action switching intriguingly between Somalia, London and Kenya. Predicated on a series of extraordinary coincidences, the story contrasts the fortunes of Amina Abdullahi, beautiful daughter of a wealthy Somali merchant, and Stewart Munro, a Scottish tobacco trader.
Their paths briefly intertwine in Mogadishu. An unlikely relationship seems on the cards. But circumstances conspire against them. Amina is forced to flee the capital when her brother is embroiled in retaliatory action against soldiers persecuting her Isaq clan. In her bid to reach Kenya’s porous border, Amina falls prey to Somali bandits and seems destined to be trafficked as a sex slave. She is rescued by a Maasai gun-runner (Nimrod) who has his own dark reasons for wanting to bring an end to Somalia’s decaying regime.
The eventual fall of President Siad Barre and the rise of war lords in Mogadishu foreshadows a long period of lawlessness and chaos in Somalia. Amina and Nimrod retreat to the tiny coastal village of Kaambooni. Their relative peace and security is shattered by unexpected external elements, moving the pair in desperation to embark on their own very different brand of piracy.
Munro’s anguished early efforts to trace Amina are thwarted. As time passes he takes up with a Kenyan beauty (Jamila Ngugi). The couple endure a double tragedy which propels them to leave Africa. But Amina’s involvement in hijacking the Kofi Koranteng has attracted publicity in the international press, and motivates Munro to renew his search for a lost love. When he finally tracks her down in Kaambooni, he finds they have a dangerous acquaintance in common, causing a long suppurating hatred to rise to the surface.
Mike’s first novel was praised as ‘enthralling yet disturbing, packed with excitement and African atmosphere.’ The Durban publishers are confident that readers will find as much and more in Somali Kiss. The book is available at Wordsworth Books in Knysna, George, Stellenbosch and Gardens in Cape Town, on line from www.justdone.co.za, as a Kindle download from Amazon or an e-book from Lulu.com. Customers can also email: firstname.lastname@example.org for signed copies.
Mike Wood presents a weekly World Music Programme (Sundays, 6-9 pm) on Knysna 97.0 FM. For those outside Knysna, it can be heard on the internet (www.knysnafm.co.za).