Filtering traumatic experiences through the lens of hope

By Heath Chamerski
TheShining786

Shining: The Story Of A Lucky Man | Abdi Aden and Robert Hillman | HarperCollins

There’s a moment in Somali refugee Abdi Aden’s poignant, quietly powerful memoir in which he explains what it is like to be a refugee:

You are not a refugee simply because you have no home and no country. No, you become a refugee little by little. It’s not that things become more hopeless with each passing day, it is that you adapt to the hardship and, in a way – this will sound mad – you become an expert in hardship.

Abdi – nicknamed Nurrow, or ‘The Shining One’ because of his bright, optimistic nature – became an expert in hardship in the late 1980s when the Somali Civil War caused many in Mogadishu to flee their homes as violence and mayhem took hold of the streets.

Abdi went from being a happy teen, who spent most of his time at school or playing soccer with friends, to being caught up in the turmoil of war. In an instant, he is separated from his family and decides his best chance at survival is to embark on a treacherous trek out of his home country alongside a group of fellow youngsters.

Forced to become an adult almost overnight, the always rational and sensible Abdi beautifully illustrates the customs and traditions of Somali life on page and relates the oft- distant way Somali families relate to each other.

Abdi’s prose, in this book he co-authored with Melbourne-based writer Robert Hillman, is wonderfully warm and inviting, with his writing often segueing into tangents about the Somali way of life and his befuddlement at various customs in Romania and Australia.

Although Abdi intentionally spares details of what he has seen, the chaos and madness of war are still strongly conveyed, especially in one recollection where his group is captured by drug-crazed soldiers – with Abdi’s miraculous and daring escape one of the most compelling passages of the book.

After eventually fleeing Africa, Abdi makes it to Romania, where he spends time in an ill-equipped refugee camp with many other Somalis, and finally to Melbourne, travelling as the son of an immigration official.

Abdi’s story has many twists and turns that you never could have scripted. Even after he finds peace and a new home in Melbourne in the early 90s, his story becomes no less compelling, as fate reunites him with some unexpected faces from his past.

The most remarkable thing about the book, however, is as we are reading it from the point-of-view of an eternally optimistic and happy subject, we are blessed with seeing Abdi’s harrowing story through his lens.

Abdi’s story of compassion and understanding towards refugees is a timely one, and the vivid portrait he paints of his time in Somalia, Romania and finally Australia culminates in a memorable reading experience.

Particularly interesting is the way displaced Somalis in both Romania and Australia form strong communities and support networks in their host countries – rallying around each other and giving all that they can even when the have nothing themselves.

The most remarkable thing about the book, however, is as we are reading it from the point-of-view of an eternally optimistic and happy subject, we are blessed with seeing Abdi’s harrowing story through his lens.

Abdi’s global search for peace serves as an unconventional coming of age story as well as a wonderful testament to the value of optimism, which Abdi credits as the reason he was able to survive all of his hardships.

The memoir is subsequently an inspiring and ultimately happy read, even though Abdi’s story sprung out of such a devastating war. The message the remarkably humble and eternally grateful Abdi leaves us with is that all of these hardships were part of his journey to happiness.

Beautifully written and always gripping, Shining: The Story of a Lucky Man is a wonderful tribute to the unshakeable human spirit and the value of hope in a seemingly unforgiving modern world.

Shining: The Story of a Lucky Man is now available from HarperCollins.

Heath Chamerski has worked in the publishing industry for the past 15 years and has written film and television reviews for publications such as The Age, The Canberra Times, the MX, The New Zealand Herald and The South China Morning Post.

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