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Booker Longlist 2021 – The Fortune Men

The Fortune Men

Book 11 – Read and reviewed by BookWorm, Tracy & Susie

Synopsis from Booker Prize website:  Mahmood Mattan is a fixture in Cardiff’s Tiger Bay, 1952, which bustles with Somali and West Indian sailors, Maltese businessmen and Jewish families. He is a father, a chancer, a some-time petty thief. He is many things, in fact, but he is not a murderer.

So when a shopkeeper is brutally killed and all eyes fall on him, Mahmood isn’t too worried. It is true that he has been getting into trouble more often since his Welsh wife Laura left him. But Mahmood is secure in his innocence in a country where, he thinks, justice is served.

It is only in the run-up to the trial, as the prospect of freedom dwindles, that it will dawn on Mahmood that he is in a terrifying fight for his life — against conspiracy, prejudice and the inhumanity of the state. And, under the shadow of the hangman’s noose, he begins to realise that the truth may not be enough to save him.

Nadifa Mohamed was born in 1981 in Hargeisa, Somaliland. At the age of four she moved with her family to London. She is the author of Black Mamba Boy, The Orchard of Lost Souls and, most recently, The Fortune Men. She has received both The Betty Trask Award and the Somerset Maugham Award, as well as numerous other prize nominations, for her fiction. She was named as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists in 2013. She contributes regularly to the Guardian and the BBC.

BookWorm’s Thoughts: I wish I had known going into the book that this was based on a true story as I would have been more invested in the characters and what happened to them. Instead up until the case came to trial I felt that the book was very slow moving and the way it was told meant I didn’t really connect with any of the characters.

When we hit the trial I loved the simple Q & A format and as I raced through the evidence the jury heard I could not believe that hearing the same things I read they made the decision that they did. Totally scary and I really felt for Mahood when he realised his trust in the British justice system was actually misplaced.

I feel his lawyer did a great job of giving cause for reasonable doubt and the verdict was a travesty.

The epilogue where I finally realised this was a real case really impacted me and I appreciate the author bringing this to life even if I didn’t connect with the writing style. I believe we do need stories like these to enable us to understand that even the courts are not always correct and that for some people if your face doesn’t fit or if you have made enemies then there is not always the interest in pursuing justice.

An important story.

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality: 3/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Total: 14/20

Tracy’s Thoughts: Finally a Booker Book! 

Some of the other books have been very good, but I don’t see them as Booker books. This one checks the boxes for me. 

The novel is based on a real story- a Somali man living in 1950s Wales was convicted of a murder he didn’t commit. (this was proven years later). Mahmood believes in his innocence, and that he will be exonerated. 

The author did a wonderful job of using her research and creating a story that wasn’t bogged down with info. She created a character for the ages in Mahmood, and a commentary that made its point without being preachy. I wish that some of the other characters were more hashed out, but this was ultimately Mahmood’s story.

What got me most is Mahmood’s commitment- he was a petty criminal and a gambler, but he truly believed in a system that was against him- that the truth would prevail and he would be released. It was heartbreaking. 

A nicely paced plot, a social commentary that resonates, and a historic setting that wasn’t forever ago- this was just what the longlist needed. 

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality: 4/5
Character development: 3.5/4
Plot: 4/4
Enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 18.5/20

Susie’s Thoughts:  At this stage in my reading of the longlist, I’m starting to think that they are all (minus a few exceptions) three star reads! As a fictionalised account of a true event, The Fortune Men is incredibly well researched, and the story of one man’s experience of institutional racism is an important one. It was a new story to me and I was eager to move through the book. I did find it to be a valuable reading experience, and yet it was quite conventional in terms of writing style. Nothing new to see here.

Writing quality: 3.5/5
Originality: 2/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 2.5/4
Overall enjoyment:1/2
Total: 12/20

Rankings so far
Bewilderment 19.25/20
No one is Talking about This 16.83
Light Perpetual 16.25
Second Place 16
A Town Called Solace 15.83
The Fortune Men 14.83
The Sweetness of Water 14.63
The Promise 14.25
A Passage North 13.83
Klara and the Sun 13.3
China Room 13.1

Another book that has split the panel so we want to know what do you think of this one?

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