Reading Wales Review: The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed

My Interest

As I understand it, Reading Wales Month showcases Welsh authors. I think it is probably just fine to sneak in another book SET in Wales though. At least I hope so. The Fortune Men dovetails so nicely with Sugar and Slate–the book the host blogger chose for this year’s #dewithon22. Like that book, there is the story of race, religion and what makes someone “belong” in this book, too. Plus, the novel is based on a true story–that’s always interesting.

The Story

maps showing Somalia and Wales

In the Cardiff of 1952, Somali merchant seaman Mahmood Mattan, both Black and a Muslim (but not an American “Black Muslim” of the Nation of Islam) is accused of killing white, Jewish, shop owner Violent. “Moody,” as his white Welsh wife Laura calls him, continues to proclaim his innocence and believe the British justice system will treat him fairly. But on the witness stand Moody is often his own worst enemy. He comes across as angry, arrogant, and prideful. A worse combination for an accused murder could not be imagined. But add in being Black, foreign, married to a white woman, the father of three mixed race sons, and a Muslim and you know the verdict. It would mostly be the same today, sadly.

While Moody is enduring the wait for his hearing and then his trial, we learn his life story from his boyhood in British Somaliland, to his service in the Merchant Navy (Merchant Marine to Americans) during which he sailed the seven seas and proudly lists them in a conversation.

His wife and children endure the sort of racial prejudice, threats to their security, and endless nasty looks and little put-downs that today we know as “microaggressions” while waiting to learn his fate. Moody’s attempts to shield his children are sweet and touching. We see the heart beneath the so-called “arrogance” when his children are involved.

Even at the time of the story, Cardiff has a fairly large community of foreign merchant sailors, but can residents be counted on to tell a Somali from a West African? Can they be trusted to identify the right man? Is there information that could save him that isn’t being brought forward? Does his mother-in-law know something? Does he have secrets? What about his wife?

My Thoughts

This was a slow book to get going, but once it did I did not want to stop listening. I’m not big on crime stories, but this one really pulled me in. It was so eerily like so many court cases today. The fact that so many Black parents still feel that absolutely must teach their young sons how to interact with the police–whether the officer is Black or white. The over-zealous arrest and sentencing of Black men compared to white men committing the same exact crimes is so stark. I only know the US figures, but I honestly can’t imagine it is much different in the UK.

Moody’s mistrust of the police and his understandable unwillingness to kowtow to a bunch of white jurors when he knows he is innocent is so absolutely “today.” Except there was no d.n.a. evidence in 1952, no security cameras, to tell a different story.

I thought of his lawyer telling his that British justice treats a Duke or a man like him exactly the same, but surely he knew that was a lie, right? A Somali sailor in 1952 (or in 2022) treated the same as a Peer of the Realm–laughable.

My Verdict

(ouch on the word choice)


The Fortune Men: A Novel by Nadifa Mohamed


Review: Meet Me in Bombay by Jenny Ashcroft

My Interest

I saw an ad for The Bibliolifestyle on Instagram and agreed to get their newsletter. This was one of the books in their Winter 2021 newsletter and it sounded good” “…at the stroke of midnight, Maddy meets Luke Devereaux…” The cliched name of the hero did it for me. I needed to read it.

FYI: The The Bibliolifestyle newsletter had several books I had put on my TBR already and had a few others I had not yet encountered such as na hour-by-hour, day-by-day account of the Abdication (Crown in Crisis by Alexander Larman) and a new William Boyd (Trio) so I’m glad I agreed to receive it.

The Story

Madeline Bright (aka “Maddy”) is the daughter of the head of the Civil Service in Bombay. It is 1913 and so far it is only an arms race in Europe. The Heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne is alive and well. No reason to worry. At the Club’s New Year’s party Maddy meets her soulmate–Luke Deveraux, dashing my hopes of a lovely older man–younger woman romance with the very nice, very suitable Dr. Guy to pieces. I couldn’t blame her. Luke was exciting and nice and sexy and decent and her age. Fast-forward to August 1914. We all know what happens. Luke is among those damaged by the war. He undergoes operations and therapy, but nothing brings back his memory….until… I liked Maddy and Luke. I liked Guy, I liked Maddy’s parents. Cliched or not, it was a good story.

My Thoughts

Even with a cliched storyline, it was a good read, but there were problems. For example:

  • I found it hard to believe that daughter of such a high-ranking Brit would be sent to University to become a teacher in 1913. That seemed very unlikely, but perhaps the author found someone similar in her research. Otherwise, it was an attempt to lure modern readers into liking her more. That was unnecessary.
  • No spoilers, but part of the romance was not likely to happen given how small British Civil Service Bombay was in terms of gossip.
  • No British woman of that era would have encouraged a male, Muslim servant in India to be familiar and call her “Maddy.” Maddy’s father would have sacked the man instantly. That was another absurd addition to “modernize” it for current-day audiences. Better to have just let the story of what those previously invisible Indian troops did and endured at the front speak to the modern-day.
  • Not so the idea that Major’s wear stripes on their sleeves–they don’t. Nor would a mere Seargent be at the same club with officers. Even today that would be a tough sell.
  • I could be wrong, but a mosque doesn’t have monks, Plus, I was left wondering if the author even knows what a “bearer” was–he crops up in unusual places.
  • Also, there was a chapter so poorly proof-read it said Bombay, but they were having trouble seeing out of the ice on the windscreen. Hmmm…Audio version so it might have simply been a reader’s mistake.

I had problems with the ending–it seemed the author painted herself into a corner (no spoilers). I also felt everyone was shockingly self-aware.

If there were so many problems, why did I enjoy it? Except for my issues with the ending, the problems did not affect the story. I cannot tell more about the story without major spoilers. Were there cliched moments? Of course–the whole set-up was cliched, but it was a “good read” and that’s what it was meant to be. I liked how things from the past emerged over time in the first half of the story. I liked that Maddy wasn’t insane and didn’t go to the front via u-boat infested waters and miraculously find her man. I liked the way others protected her and loved her. I liked sweet Guy–always there to fall back on. I liked Luke and Peter, I felt sorry for Ernest and disliked Diana. I liked that Maddy and Della pushed the boundaries at various times, but overall were true to their times. I felt sorry for Alice and was glad she saw that she did truly love Richard. I didn’t like Iris, but she was just a prop anyway!

Note on the reader. She called “Lyons Corner House LEE-OWNS” and Maddy forever said Mah-Mah for Mama like an infant. Very weird. But those are not the author’s fault.

My Verdict


If you like Colonial India fiction, you’ll like The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies.

Novellas in November Review: Train Dreams: A Novella by Denis Johnson

My Interest

The cover was what attracted me–I saw it and thought it was a print by my Great Uncle, artist Edwin Fulwider. When I read the story was set in Idaho–where Ed worked in the summers and late lived in retirement near Bayview, right on Lake Pend Oreille I was certain. Ok, I was wrong, but below you can get an idea of WHY I thought so. The painting I was recalling be in a private collection for I could not find an image via Google of it. Sadly, that part of Idaho was first invaded by Neo-Nazis (remember Ruby Ridge?) and then tourists. Now it is unrecognizable as the summer artists’ colony Indiana University/Stanford University David Star Jordan helped found [More about him in another post–he’s currently a non-person due to the new book Why Fish Don’t Exist).

The Story

“All his life Robert Grainier would remember vividly the burned valley at sundown, the most dreamlike business he’d ever witnessed waking—the brilliant pastels of the last light overhead, some clouds high and white, catching daylight from beyond the valley, others ribbed and gray and pink, the lowest of them rubbing the peaks of Bussard and Queen mountains; and beneath this wondrous sky the black valley, utterly still, the train moving through it making a great noise but unable to wake this dead world.” (Train Dreams)

Every man laborer Robert Gainer lives a typical Northern Idaho life at the start of the 20th Century. Dumped? Orphaned? He does not know, but was raised with cousins and considered an aunt and uncle his “parents.” His early memory is of being on a train with a tag upon which was written his ultimate destination. His life is cruel in the way so many lives were cruel before social safety nets. The place he lands in is a raw, mining area near Sandpoint in the panhandle. Life continues to be cruel, but he takes it in his stride. He has experiences–some dreams as he goes through his very ordinary existence.

My Thoughts

I’ve made that sound very gloomy, yet it IS somehow a beautiful book. There is one scene I could have lived without, but even it was so carefully told I could let it go. Times were different. Many people had no reason to expect more than Bob Gainer found in life. Johnson’s prose is superb.  The audiobook performance was worthy of this fine writing. At 2.25 hours anyone can find time to listen and enjoy this little marvel of a novella.

I wish Uncle Ed had been alive to enjoy this with me. He would have marveled at it. It so perfectly captures the feel of old-time Panhandle life.

Train Dreams: A Novella by Denis Johnson

Edwin L. Fulwider

Trains, mines, and Northern Idaho, all figured prominently in his body of work. Paintings, four-color lithographs, black/white lithography–all were staples in his portfolio.

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i1035 FW1.1  Edwin L. Fulwider: “Tearing Locomotive” lithograph Photo Source

Photo Source 23ed738542952316c0cd76a210a5aae6

Edwin L. Fulwider: Untitled depiction of the Great Northern Railway


Photo Source

Edwin L. Fulwider: The Union Pacific


Photo Source

Storm, Salmon River Valley, Idaho by Edwin L. Fulwider


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