Thursday, November 1, 2018

Call Me American

Title:  Call Me American:  A Memoir
Author:  Abdi Nor Iftin
Publication Information:  Knopf. 2018. 320 pages.
ISBN:  1524732192 / 978-1524732196

Book Source:  I received this book through Penguin First to Read free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "I was born under a neem tree, probably in 1985."

Favorite Quote:  "I hope that my own example reminds people of what is possible. No one gets to choose when or where to be bor, but what happens after that is what you can imagine."

For a book titled Call Me American, very little of this book actually takes place in America. It is, however, completely about the American dream and about America as a the haven for those seeking freedom and a better life.

Abdi Nor Iftir is a young man born and raised in and around Mogadishu, Somalia. Since the 1990s, the country has been torn apart by strife and civil war. In other words, this young man has had no other world but one of poverty, deprivation, and war. His formal education came through religiously based schools, which focus on the rote memorization of holy texts not the understanding of the life principles that underlie the teachings.

His informal education and his escape came from contraband American movies and music. For a short period of time, this dream came from the American military presence in Somalia. However, in the eyes of a child, the soldiers one day simply left, and they left him behind.

He, however, developed a love of all things American. He taught himself English from the movies and began calling himself Abdi American.

In his real life, he watched his father lose all sense of who and what he was. He watched his mother struggle to keep family and home. He watched his brother's attempt to reach for a better life. He watched friends die. He found his own life in jeopardy. In other words, behind this somewhat sweet and innocent vision of a child watching and trying to be like the actors in the movies is a world that required constant vigilance just to survive. To him, America was and is a land of possibilities and a dream of a better life.

In his pursuit, Abdi Nor Iftir became unique. He was an English speaking Somali who was in the middle of all the strife taking place in the county. This brought him to media attention and made him friends in far away places including America. Sheer chance got him the coveted American visa through the Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery - the green card lottery. His story outlines the challenges and the scrutiny of that process, and how many times, he came close to being rejected even after winning the lottery.

Abdi Nor Iftir is now trying to make his American dream come true. To some extent, it already has with the visa. However, he finds that the dream - though still possible and still safer and better than the life he left behind - is perhaps a little tarnished.

His story serves the purpose of presenting one real life example of a refugee, who followed all the rules and who went through all the right processes and who made it. The story depicts so well the dream of America - the chance for a better life and the chance to work hard and work honestly for that life. Despite all the hardships, Abdi Nor Iftin is perhaps the lucky one. He did win the lottery. The visa was honored. He had friends who helped along the way. What of all the people for whom that is not the case? After reading this amazing story, that is the question I am left with.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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