By Book Club Member Nina Mistilis
The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed, a historical 2021 Booker prize list book, relates how Mahmood Mattan an immigrant Somali seaman, estranged husband, father, gambler, and petty thief was wrongly convicted and hanged for murdering a Jewish shopkeeper in 1952 in Cardiff, Wales;
46 years later his conviction was quashed, mainly through the persistent efforts of his wife Laura and the local Somali community.
The book begins with graphic descriptions of life around the Tiger Bay (Cardiff) docks for the Somali community and the white small business owners. The author presents the events leading to Mattan’s conviction, a compelling chronicle with interwoven themes of racism, community culture, justice, and policing from which readers draw their conclusions. It also traces Mattan’s initial indifference to his arrest, due to his strong belief in the British justice system, to his utter despair at its failure. The combination of his difficult personality, perjuring witnesses and institutional racist policing contributed to his being found guilty.
The book ends with court transcripts, a newspaper article, and an epilogue through which we learn that this is a true story.
Understandably, none of the Book Club members enjoyed reading the book but all graded it well, a testament to the power of the seriously unpleasant narrative. Scores collected out of 10 were at an average of 7.
Three-word summaries included ‘British justice fails’, ‘love triumphs adversary’, ‘tragic colonial history’, and ‘recent historical tragedy’.
UPDATE ‘Police apologize for the wrongful conviction of man executed 70 years ago’ The Guardian, 04 09 22. Click on the link below to read the full article.
The Book Club will next discuss China Room by Sunjeev Sahota a Booker prize list of Historical and Political fiction on zoom from 17:30 to 18:30 on Tuesday 18 October. To RSVP, please contact the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.