"The Camel Bookmobile" by Masha Hamilton

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"The Camel Bookmobile" starts with an idealistic young American woman who wants to bring English and literacy to the Kenyan bush. One village in particular catches her fancy, with its English-speaking teacher, and enthusiastic denizens. She brings her camels from the city each month and feels she is making progress, but behind the happy exterior, events begin to take place which will change everyone's life.

This is a novel about the sometimes arrogant beliefs of educated Westerners about the benefits of the modern world, and how those beliefs clash with age-old African nomadic ways. Fi Sweeney, our determined American, finds encouragement from some quarters in this out-of-the-way place, but fierce resistance in others. Certain of the villagers strive to take the necessary steps to keep up with the modern world, but prejudices against the 21st Century run deep.

One telling image, mentioned in passing mid-story and brought up again at the end, is that of the bereft zebra who, having lost its mate, or some other family member, joined a group of giraffes, thinking it could find the fulfillment it sought. Such it is with the characters here. Fi considers staying in the bush in Kenya, having found what she thought was love. Various villagers want to leave and live in the distant city and join the modern world. In the end, this is a book about not belonging, in spite of what your heart may tell you.

As this book started, I thought it would be a rather light weight. As I progressed through it, it grew strongly on me, until its impressive insights, and the subtle way in which Ms. Hamilton propounds them, made their lasting mark on me. This is a fine book, well worthy of your time, full of human striving and the inevitability of ancient natural imperatives.
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