Monday, September 7, 2015

Review: Gone is Yesterday by Naila Barwani

Title: Gone is Yesterday/Imepita Jana
Author: Naila Barwani
Year Published: 2010

Genre: Adult fiction
Pages: 99 (and another 99 pages in Swahili)
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2015 Google Reading map)Zanzibar (now Tanzania)

FTC Disclosure: I received this book as a gift from the author

Summary (from Amazon):
 Written from the viewpoint of a young woman growing up in Zanzibar, Naila Barwani's book is a compelling first-hand account of life on the Island, with its social, family, religious and economic traditions and its historical inks with Oman. An excellent read, whether seen as biography, cultural history, or sociology, the book focuses on the life of a leading Arab family in a narrative replete with memorable events, vivid descriptions, and characters portrayed with great warmth and humanity. Gone is Yesterday starts off from a time when some ex-slaves still lived in their former masters' households, very much as an integral part of the family, to the tumultuous revolution of 1964; movingly capturing the sadness and nostalgia felt by those compelled to leave the island with its centuries-old patterns of life, work, and religion; a glimpse into the fabled Swahili culture. The narrative is best savoured in its original version in Swahili, Imepita Jana, included here in for those able to understand that most dominant language in East Africa.

Review: A little background is necessary to see where this book came from. My ex-husband is Arab and was born on Zanzibar and moved to the US when he was 12 years old. The author of this book was one of his neighbors and a good family friend on Zanzibar; his relatives in Oman have kept up the friendship. Every other year I travel to Oman with my ex and my daughter and on each trip we visit Naila Barwani. On our our last trip, she talked about writing this book and gave me a copy.

I have heard only a few stories about my ex-husband's family's life on Zanzibar, most of which center on moving to Dar-es Salam in 1964 when the revolution happened and then moving again in 1969 when it erupted again and life for Arabs in Tanzania was difficult. So I enjoyed reading this slim volumn to gain some insight into what life was like on the island. There seems to be a confusing system of ex-slaves (the Arabs were slave traders), family members (some of whom are blood relatives and some of whom are not), and friends that were all intertwined in the author's household and life.

The reader must put aside a western understanding of family, tradition, marriage, and kinship to embrace the story in this book. Talk of divorce within a day, marriage to multiple wives, and a flow of people is so very different from what is "normal" in the west. It definitely gave me a little more insight into how our visits go in Oman--visiting LOTS of "relatives" and old ladies is the norm in the Arab world. They are much more involved in one another's lives than my family is, for sure.

This is a quick read and an interesting cultural read as well.

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