Posted: Tue 2nd Nov 2021

Former mayor of Mold Bob Gaffey reviews this year’s Booker Prize nominees: The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Tuesday, Nov 2nd, 2021

The Booker Prize is the leading literary award in the English speaking world and has brought recognition, reward and readership to outstanding fiction for over five decades.

Each year, the prize is awarded to what is, in the opinion of the judges, the best novel of the year written in English and published in the UK and Ireland. It is a prize that transforms the winner’s career.

Anuk Arudpragasam, Damon Galgut, Patricia Lockwood, Nadifa Mohamed, Richard Powers and Maggie Shipstead are today announced have been shortlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize for Fiction.

The former mayor of Mold, Bob Gaffey has reviewed all six Booker-shortlisted books which will be published on in the run-up to the award announcement day of Nov 3.

Bob is also a keen writer is set to release a book for Mold’s first Bookfest in May 2022.

All this year Booker nominee reviews:

Bob’s first review is on The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed  – a story of the real-life battle against conspiracy, prejudice and a wrongful conviction for murder as a Somali seaman is hanged in Cardiff in the 1950s;

The Fortune Men Review by Bob Gaffey 

The author has created a story based on a real life incident in Cardiff in 1952. It tells of a Somali who has married a local Welsh girl called Laura.  Mahmood Matan has done all sorts of jobs but his main one has been on the sea. They have 3 young boys. Diana lives with her sister Violet, who is widowed and runs a shop in Bute St through inheritance due to the husband’s death. This keeps the wolf from the door. MM has been in trouble with the police for minor offences and is a bit of a jack-the-lad. The story starts in Butetown, an area of Cardiff. “He had once belonged to this army of workers pulled in from all over the world, dredged in to replace the thousands of mariners lost in the war.” 

MM’s background is given of him running away from home to find an exciting life on the sea and how he finished up living in Cardiff. The family life of his wife and kids is explained. At the moment MM is in the dog-house and living apart from Laura but this seems to be a normal thing before they get back together again. Another important part of the story is Berlin who owns and runs a popular milk bar and is a very good friend of MM’s.  There is a great deal of dialogue throughout the novel which tells you of the poverty and the lives of the Tiger Bay area. It’s a very cosmopolitan area due to it being a hugely important British port at the time due to the coal exports all over the world from the welsh valleys. The chatter is so realistic you can hear the roar of the neighbourhood and the smell of the smoke.

Whilst Violet, Diana and Grace are eating a meal one evening there’s a knock at the door. Grace is Di’s 8 year old daughter. A knock at the door at this time of night is quite normal. It’s someone who wants to buy a particular item from the shop and can’t wait till the next day. Violet answers and is murdered and the killer steals a large sum of money. This is done noiselessly whilst the family eat in the next room. The story then develops into the police arresting MM and stitching him up over the murder. The racism in Cardiff is a constant theme throughout the novel and extreme. The shock that MM goes through when he finally realizes what he’s been charged for is beautifully put. All who know him know he is innocent and there’s a battle royal between those who want him hung and those who don’t. The evidence against him is very circumstantial but the police are determined to find him guilty. The reward for finding the killer is substantial and quite a few people come out of the woodwork. They speak against him hoping to claim the large reward.

MM is convinced that British justice will find him innocent, until he realizes it won’t. The trials and tribulations he goes through are wonderfully expressed so it’s no wonder this book got on to the Booker shortlist. Is it good enough to win, I think not. Of the 3 I’ve read I’m leaning to A Journey North.

About the author 

Nadifa Mohamed is the first British Somali novelist to be shortlisted for the prize.

She was born in Hargeisa, Somaliland and moved with her family to London at the age of four.

The Fortune Men is her third novel, following Black Mamba Boy and The Orchard of Lost Souls.

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 and the editor of Granta at the time, John Freeman, is now US editor of The Fortune Men.

She says she first became aware of Mahmood Mattan — the Somali man whose fictionalised story features in her book, and whom her father knew — in 2004, and kept checking back over the next 11 years as more information became available

About Bob Gaffey

Bob Gaffey was mayor of Mold between 2017 and 2018.

He spent six years as a town councillor in Mold, raising more than £10,000 towards the restoration of Bailey Hill in the town as part of a project to turn the former Norman settlement into an outdoor attraction.

The funds were raised by holding events during his time as mayor in 2017/18.

The former union representative is currently chair of the Wrexham, Denbighshire and Flintshire branch of Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales and the Delyn branch of Plaid Cymru.

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