“The Fortune Men” by Nadifa Mohammed
The Fortune Men portrays life in the racial, cultural hub of Cardiff’s Tiger Bay in the early fifties. It centres on the plight of a Somali man, Mahmood Mattan, who finds himself on trial for the murder of a local shopkeeper.
Mahmood is a chancer, a father and a petty criminal who is innocent of the crime, but as the local paper of the day described, “Almost within a stone’s throw in which he lived in Cardiff, Mahmood Mattan was executed…” He was the last man to be hung in Cardiff prison. Many years later, the conviction and execution of Mahmood became the first miscarriage of justice case ever investigated by the Criminal Cases Review Commission and in 1998 Mahmood was exonerated by the Court of Appeal.
Nadifa Mohammed, whose father knew Mahmood, is herself a British Somali and seems well placed to write Mahmood’s story. Nadifa manages to paint a credible picture of life and the events in the 50’s that led to the wrongful conviction of Mahmood for the murder of a white woman just because of the colour of his skin. It is a story of racism, discrimination, police corruption, conspiracy and cruelty.
The Page Turners thought it was an important story that needed telling, as racism remains an issue today, and on a regular basis there seem to be reports of miscarriages of justice when wrongly convicted people are freed.
Many book club members thought the writing style and language used was difficult, especially when there were many words in foreign languages that were not translated. Some felt that sentences and
descriptions were overly long and descriptive passages tedious to read. Some readers did not like the fictionalised account of this historical event and would have preferred to read a biography of Mahmood.
Everyone agreed it was an important event that needed to be told; the discussion was mainly around the telling. Have a read and judge for yourself! The Page Turners average score was 6.5!
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, red roses for love.. But for Victoria Jones it’s been more useful in communicating mistrust and solitude. After her childhood spent in the foster care system she finds she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. The story follows Victoria’s blossoming into adult life as she haphazardly learns to trust and be trusted, to love and be loved.
This book was well received by the majority of us. It was agreed that the effects of the care system upon young people was very well understood (the author had herself been a foster parent). Victoria’s difficulty emerging into independent life was palpable; we wanted her to succeed in life.
The history of flowers and their changing language was beautifully versed. The inclusion in the book of a dictionary of flowers and their language made for fascinating study, although there was disappointment when favourite flowers of our own turned out to have negative attributes (eg sunflower: false riches, yellow rose: infidelity) There was relief by most that the book ended on an optimistic yet realistic note. This enjoyable book scored an average of 7/10.