Fractured, by Clár Ní Chonghaile, is a political thriller set in and around contemporary Somalia. The country is overflowing with insurgents, power hungry terrorists, and local people reluctantly drawn into the latest bloody conflict by the mayhem their everyday lives have become. It is a fascinating exploration of how and why seemingly ordinary people become killers. It offers a chance of empathy if not understanding.
The protagonist is a journalist, Peter Maguire, who has been kidnapped and held hostage by a group seeking wealth from their unexpected encounter with a white man on the streets of Mogadishu. As he lies beaten on the floor of a crude shelter, mentally numbed and awaiting his fate, Peter strikes up a tentative rapport with one of his captors. Abdi is working for his uncle and feels some sympathy for the westerner:
“I did not want to be a part of reducing a man to less than a goat to be slaughtered when he has no way to defend himself.”
The local people value the ties of kinship and clan, something that strangers to the country sometimes struggle to grasp. They will seek to avenge the injustices rained down on their people, but resent the rules imposed by each set of incomers claiming to have their best interests at heart.
The story is told from three points of view: Peter, Abdi, and Peter’s mother, Nina. Although now retired, divorced and living alone in Paris, Nina was also once an intrepid journalist in troubled Africa. She has lived a life full of regrets and seeks redemption in working to secure the freedom of her only child.
As a reader who struggles to understand the forces driving the relentless killing in these far away places, I was perplexed as much by small details as by the overall picture painted in this tale. There was hatred of the west and their values, yet coca cola seemed to be regarded as an esteemed treat. Those who had travelled and received an education abroad appeared to be revered more than those who had stayed true to the traditions of their homeland.
The author wishes readers to consider the concept of freedom, be it of place or ways of thinking. Each character is hemmed in by their history and struggles against personal and familial expectations. The westerners travelled in an attempt to escape the bonds they had placed around themselves. This was rarely an option for the Africans, hemmed in as they were by poverty and travel restrictions imposed by an unwelcoming world. They were forced to cope with their demons in the full glare of those who bound them in emotional chains.
I enjoyed joining the journey with Abdi and Peter but felt less empathy towards Nina. As a woman this makes me uncomfortable. I wonder how much my own history and expectations feed such prejudices.
This is an unusual but highly readable account of a terrifying ordeal which changes the lives of all involved. The story is not so much about the catalyst though, the kidnapping, as about lives lived and the ripples these cause.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Legend Press.