Books: “The Fortune Men” by Nadifa Mohamed
by August Cosentino
Black History Month is a time for remembrance. And in 2022, we remember someone mostly forgotten by the world, from a land not especially known for its
Cardiff, the Welsh capital city, is a seaport which after World War II drew people from all over the world: Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe, West Indians residents of the Commonwealth—and Muslim sailors from Somaliland like Mamood Mattan, the protagonist of “The Fortune Men.” Nadifa Mohamed’s novelization of a true story.
Moody, as he is called, is a character with a cheeky demeanor and a shady (but interesting) past. One of six children from British Somaliland, he escapes the confines of his African village by signing on as a journeyman sailor and proceeds to see the world. Moody eventually winds up in Cardiff, where he marries a native Welshwoman and starts a family. After that, unfortunately, he doesn’t do much of anything else—except go on the dole, gamble away the few pence in his pocket, and make enemies of his fellow Blacks.
One night, while Moody is at the cinema, a murder of a local shopkeeper takes place. Because an eyewitness claims the killer was tall, Black, and wore a hat and long trench coat like Moody, he is immediately arrested and held without bail—for months. Meanwhile the case against him builds, buttressed not by a shred of evidence but by the vicious rumors of fellow Cardiffians who’ve long had it in for him—as well as the racism of an all-white jury .
Nadifa Mohamed gets inside Moody’s head, brilliantly capturing the thoughts of a man who knows he’s basically a screw-up but also his outrage at being accused of a murder he did not commit. Her reenactment of the trial is gripping, and demonstrates that the deck is clearly stacked against Moody no matter what he says or his defenders claim.
The author, a Somali living in London, has won or been shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award, the PEN Open Book Award, other literary prizes. Besides being an excellent read, her “Fortune Men” is sad testimony of a time when Black Lives didn’t Matter, and innocent people paid the price.