Winner of the first Graywolf Press African Fiction Prize, Bajaber's debut is a magical realist coming-of-age tale told through the lens of the Swahili and diasporic Hadrami culture in Mombasa, Kenya: When the fisherman father of Aisha, a Hadrami girl in Mombasa, goes missing, she takes to the sea on a magical boat made of a skeleton to rescue him.
... an astonishing fiction debut ... Aisha is everything you want in a heroine: cunning and headstrong, but also fallible ... Every sentence of this novel could be a verse. There are stories within stories here, bursting with truth and wisdom, honoring the rich oral traditions of the Hadrami ... Bajaber is a born storyteller, pulling you along Aisha’s epic quest to know her father’s fate. She punctuates the pathos with knowing humor, as when Aisha poses as a 'keeper of histories' before the fearsome monster Baba wa Papa, or Father of the Shark.
Bajaber weaves together the mythical and the real and uses the cadences of the oral storytelling traditions of Kenya to create a remarkable coming-of-age narrative. Aisha’s sea adventure, evoking memories of Sinbad and Ulysses, is in a sense only a prequel, because when she returns, it is with the thirst for more knowledge. As the story flows, Bajaber offers strongly developed characters and recognizable family dynamics that root this fabulist tale in a cultural context. Bajaber’s debut novel, winner of the first Graywolf Press African Fiction Prize, is imaginative with its personality-infused crows and goats and empathetic in its dramatization of difficult choices.
With its spunky protagonist, foreboding atmosphere, and supernatural elements, this novel would appeal to readers of Karen Russell’s genre-defying Swamplandia and would also be a perfect selection for young adults eager to broaden their literary horizons.