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The Camel Bookmobile by Masha Hamilton

The Camel Bookmobile (2007)

by Masha Hamilton

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saga of a travelling library in africa. ( )
  laureyd | Mar 27, 2016 |
Fiona Sweeney is a librarian who accepts a job with a charitable foundation to bring books to remote villages in Africa, promoting literacy among the tiny, far-flung communities of northeastern Kenya. These settlements are impoverished, lacking roads or schools, and the people’s lives are steeped in tradition and superstition. Because the donated books are limited in number and the settlements are many, the library has initiated a tough fine: if anyone fails to return a book, the bookmobile will stop coming.

Talk about a clash of cultures! What use is reading Tom Sawyer, or a how-to book on raising children to these people? They don’t understand the references, can’t imagine who someone would paint a fence, and have no place to buy ANY formula (let alone a variety of formulas). These are the arguments that the local African officials make, trying to dissuade Fi from persisting in taking the caravan of camels to the villages. And yet, the reality is that there are stories that inspire and piqué interest. Some of the residents see good in learning to read and dream of going to the city to further their education. Of course, others are certain that the drought is a punishment for their reaching beyond their borders, or allowing the bookmobile to come to them in the first place.

That clash of cultures was what was most interesting to me in the book. But Hamilton also includes a couple of relationships that become somewhat entangled in the story. This took the book in a direction I wasn’t expecting and found somewhat dissatisfying.
( )
  BookConcierge | Jan 13, 2016 |
In "The Camel Bookmobile" (2007), Masha Hamilton weaves a fascinating, multi-layered story about some overdue library books. This isn't an ordinary library, however. The books are, in fact, packed on the back of a camel and taken to remote villages in Kenya, where most of the people can't even read, let alone read English, which is the language most of the donated books happen to be in. The camel bookmobile is viewed differently by different people in these villages. To some it represents progress, the way into the modern world. To others it represents evil, a threat to old ways and old wisdom.

Fiona Sweeney, an idealistic 36-year-old American woman, commits herself to this project, and she particularly enjoys visiting Mididma, an isolated village of semi-nomads which includes a teacher, an old woman and her granddaughter who are literate and treasure books, almost any books Fi happens to bring on the camel.

Among the library patrons is a teenager called Scar Boy since being attacked by a hyena and badly disfigured. When the bookmobile returns to Mididma, Scar Boy refuses to return the books he borrowed, thus threatening the village's future as a stop on the bookmobile's schedule. This is a problem even for those who object to the bookmobile because of the shame it will bring to the village. Everyone begins pressuring Scar Boy to return the books, but it turns out he could no longer return them even if he wanted to.

Much else happens in Hamilton's story. The teacher's lovely wife falls in love with Scar Boy's father, while Fi and the teacher discover a strange attraction to each other. The little girl who loves books decides she wants to follow Fi to America to become a teacher, and Scar Boy is discovered to have a rare talent nobody knew about. Meanwhile a drought threatens the very existence of the village.

The camel bookmobile really exists, and has since 1996. Hamilton's novel, besides telling a delightful story about the power of books, brings our attention to that fact and makes us wonder about some of the true stories it must have inspired. ( )
  hardlyhardy | Dec 29, 2014 |
4.5 stars.

Fiona is a librarian in New York, but she has decided to travel to Kenya to help set up a bookmobile, traveling by camel to small villages. One of the villages, Mididima, has an interesting group of people, some of whom are opposed to the library coming. They don’t think they or their children need to learn to read, as they’ve gotten by as they have for generations. One girl (and her grandmother) are thrilled to have the library and to be able to borrow the books; there is also a boy with a scar on his face who seems to enjoy the books. There is a teacher, who is in support of the library, and his wife, who is very much against it (but at the same time is little bit torn about it).

It was really, really good. Each chapter was told from different characters’ viewpoints. I think the book did a really good job of describing the feelings of the people who opposed the bookmobile and why. Close to the end, I wasn’t sure if I was going to like the ending, but ultimately, I did - I think the way it was tied up was very fitting and appropriate. ( )
  LibraryCin | Jan 3, 2014 |
Really enjoyed the theme, the depictions of village life and rituals, and the author's cast of characters overall. (Warning spoiler alert coming!) However, when it was all over and I paused to consider my review I was left feeling the same way Fi was when she went to reconnect with Matani--that I didn't get the opportunity to know these fictional friends well enough or long enough. Still it was worth the read and I'd certainly recommend it to anyone considering humanitarian work in any Third World nation, especially Africa. ( )
  dele2451 | Nov 11, 2013 |
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For the inspiring librarians who help keep the real camel bookmobile running into the African bush, and who are dedicated to decreasing an illiteracy rate of more than eighty percent: Rashid M. Farrah, Nimo Isaack, Kaltuma Banaya, and Joseph Otieno. Thank you for the time my daughter and I shared with you.
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The child, wide-legged on the ground, licked dust off his fist and tried to pretend he was tasting camel milk.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061173487, Hardcover)

Once a fortnight, the nomadic settlement of Madidima, set deep in the dusty Kenyan desert, awaits the arrival of three camels laden down with panniers of books. This is the Camel Bookmobile, a scheme set up to bring books to scattered tribes whose daily life is dominated by drought, famine and disease. Into their world comes an unexpected wealth of literature - from the adventures of Tom Sawyer to strange vegetarian cookbooks and Dr Seuss. Kanika, a young girl who lives with her grandmother, devours every book she can lay her hands on. Her best friend is Scar Boy, a child who was mauled at the age of three by a hyena. They are joined by Matani the village teacher, his alluring wife Jwahir and the drummaker Abayomi, as well as Mr Abasi, the camel driver, who is convinced that one of the camels is possessed by the spirit of his dead mother-in-law. The only condition of The Camel Bookmobile is that every book must be returned or else the visits will cease. Then one day a book is stolen...

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:50 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Establishing a bookmobile in a destitute Kenya village, well-intentioned Fiona Sweeny inadvertently renews a decades-old tribal feud involving a camel-powered bookmobile and prior efforts to promote local education.

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Masha Hamilton is a LibraryThing Author, an author who lists their personal library on LibraryThing.

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