Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Camel Bookmobile by Masha Hamilton (HarperCollins, 2007) is an intriguing tale of a young frizzy-haired idealist, librarian Fiona Sweeney, who travels to Africa to bring books to rural Kenyans. Simple story, requisite cast: the American, the teacher, the teacher's wife, the librarian, the girl, the grandmother. Oh, and also Scar Boy, ironically the only character in the novel habitually referred to by this epithet rather than his name. Scar Boy has lived a life of shame as a result of his disfigurement in a hyena attack and it is his actions that cause the plot to thicken. The deliberate simplicity of this novel - a story told in successive chapters by the above cast - belies the complexity of the themes. And that is where the reader must enter. Ms. Hamilton leaves to the reader a series of questions regarding the value of this gift of books. Who could question the value of the written word? And yet...? I found the novel's characters well developed and in ironic contrast to the stereotypes engendered by the chapter titles. Ms. Hamilton is playing with the reader and keeps one guessing until the end. And while the "plot" is resolved, still the questions linger.

Masha Hamilton, a journalist and foreign correspondent, writes from the
perspective of her work in Africa, the Middle East, and Russia.

Her previous novels, both available at the library,
also portray characters caught in the clash of cultures, of ideals and realities, and of profession and passion. Check out Staircase of a Thousand Steps (2001) and The Distance Between Us (2004), other well-reviewed titles.

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