Shining by Abdi Aden and Robert Hillman
Abdi Aden’s story might have been more effectively titled Nuurow, the Shining One – because that was Abdi Aden’s nickname as a boy back home among his family and friends in Mogadishu, before he fled the terror and mindless violence of the civil war that tore Somalia apart in the early 1990s and continued for a long time to come.
Separated from his parents and sister at the age of 15, Abdi struck out alone on a perilous journey that led him to a camp of starving fellow‑refugees in Kenya, back through the dangers of Somalia to Mogadishu, thence to Romania where he froze in the cold, then heart‑in‑mouth to Germany, then by trickery and cunning — because he was young and penniless — to his goal of Australia. Even in Australia the teenager’s worries, like those of many asylum seekers, proved far from over. But Abdi persevered. His story is contemporary and engrossing, and I found his experiences in our country as revealing as his desperate adventures in the more dangerous places of the world.
“Nuurow” left his homeland without money or family but with a heart full of hope and a creative, positive mindset that never left him as he became a man and worked at shaping his own destiny in a foreign land. His determination, adaptability and positive outlook shine through in his story. They are what seemed to pull him through one life-threatening situation after another, including facing a Somalian firing squad.
One thing I liked about Shining was the way Abdi weaves through his story various insights about Somalia and its history, such as the effect on its rigid, ancient clan structure of overlaying colonial and then Islamic systems.
Another highlight is Abdi’s love for the places and people and language of his homeland, which perhaps the birth of Australian children of his own but no amount of goodwill in any country of sanctuary could diminish. That too was a revelation. It made me realise we expect too much of folk who uproot themselves, for whatever desperate reasons. Abdi returns more than once to an image of “paradise” that has nothing to do with Islam: playing soccer with his teenage friends on the sand of Mogadishu in the evenings, in between refreshing swims in the ocean.
The narrator does seem a bit cocksure of himself at times, and sometimes comes across as mean (mocking the Australians who try to help him) or selfish; for example, shouting himself an expensive overseas holiday once set up financially in his new country, yet failing to pay back his “loan” to the Somalian man he fooled into bringing him out to Australia.
Yet you can’t help being attracted to a guy with enough introspection to describe his mother as the person who taught him to get from A to B “by putting one foot in front of another” but his father as the one who taught him to imagine B in the first place. He sees himself as a product of “my mother’s get-things-done way of looking at life, and my father’s more poetical way of seeing things.”
Some may recognise Abdi Aden from TV programs I myself haven’t seen – SBS’s Go Back to Where You Came From or an episode of Today Tonight in which Abdi features with his family. How much this worthwhile book owes to well-credentialed co‑author Robert Hillman is hard to tell, but the end result of the successful collaboration makes an entertaining read.