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FRACTURED by Clár Ní Chonghaile
The great poet Alexander Pope said, ‘To err is human; to forgive, divine.’ This is a truth worthy of consideration for the three main characters in this electrifying debut novel by Clár Ní Chonghaile.
As a journalist, Clár Ní Chonghaile witnessed the hardships and everyday violence of life for the people of Somalia. She covered the African Union’s battle against Al-Shabaab, and she travelled extensively throughout both Europe and Africa. Brought up in Ireland, she moved to London to work for the news agency Reuters. In an interview, she stated that she felt Somalia chose her as the setting for her novel, as she has always been fascinated by it as a country. We are so fortunate as readers that she decided to put her vast experience to use in her storytelling.
‘FRACTURED’ follows the story of journalist Peter Maguire, who is kidnapped by Al-Shabaab and taken hostage in Somalia. He works for the International Post based in Washington. His editor Don orders him to go to Somalia and write a piece on the terrorist group Al Shabaab. He is subsequently captured and taken hostage. His friend and colleague Guled is killed during the capture, for which Peter blames himself and suffers irrevocable guilt.
The novel is told from the perspective of three different people, Peter, Abdi and Nina (Peter’s mother). This narrative structure works beautifully, as we are given a deep insight, not only into what each character believes about themselves, but their hopes, dreams, fears and weaknesses.
The novel begins with Peter in captivity and we are immediately given the inside scoop into his chaotic life, both professionally and personally. There is nothing like facing imminent death to make a person reflect on their life, and yet the author draws this out subtly and without over dramatizing the situation, which makes it all the more effective.
Peter knew the dangers of coming to Somalia. A beautiful yet brutal country, where evil lurks around every corner. As Peter so eloquently says:
“Collateral damage is a whole class of people in Mogadishu, a ghost town, where young, red-eyed, angry zombies spook the streets.”
A young boy called Abdi is one of Peter’s minders. He is working for his cousin, following the death of his father by a mortar attack. He sees parallels between his and Peter’s lives. They are both prisoners, as Abdi cannot escape the role he has been forced into. Due to the death of both his father and his brother Nadif, he has no choice but to support his mother. Abdi is only a teenager. Caught up in a terrible war, he is the victim of circumstances completely beyond his control. However the author has not made him a victim. On the contrary, he is a strong character. Abdi’s story is particularly heart breaking, and he is the character, who for me is the most true to himself. He does what he feels is right and follows his own path. He recognizes true pain and when Peter is in captivity he says:
“He has lost hope, I thought. I knew that voice. The voice of someone who does not now, or ever, expect things to get better. The voice of someone who has lost too much, seen too much, heard too much and smelt too much. It is my voice.”
Abdi begins to realize that he doesn’t want to witness the killing of this innocent man and he discovers a way for both himself and Peter to escape.
As the narrative unfolds we are taken on a journey of each of the three main characters, whose lives are entwined and interdependent. The story is full of tension and drama, as Peter, Abdi and Nina seek redemption, freedom and an understanding of the immense difficulties and pain they face.
Nina’s story is equally complicated, but as I don’t wish to give away any of the story, suffice to say, when Peter is kidnapped she returns to Africa, where she must try to reconcile herself to her past. She is a strong yet vulnerable woman, and Clár Ní Chonghaile has drawn such a vivid character I had to keep reminding myself that she was a fictional creation.
The narrative remains compelling due to the harrowing effects of war and how the characters show their vulnerabilities and fears in the wake of death and disaster. Although each of them have made choices and decisions they regret, they also know that to some degree they had no control over the events that overtook them at the time.
As human beings we can all identify with mistakes made and regrets harboured. The question at the heart of this extraordinary novel is, ‘what are you going to do about it?’ One cannot be forgiven without first forgiving oneself. This is the challenge faced mainly by Nina, but also by Peter and to a lesser extent Abdi.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. With bright and brilliant descriptions of Africa, set against the backdrop of war, and with three fascinating and complex characters seeking redemption in a country torn apart by war, this novel deserves all the plaudits it has received. It is a breathtakingly good debut novel and it is one that I will definitely read again.