Kenya’s people live in far flung villages
just like their ancestors have for many generations. They herd the cattle, pray for rain, and
listen to the elders. Big city lights,
internet, even electricity are not part of their daily life. American exuberance is a force to be reckoned
with, rife with enthusiasm and a belief we can succeed, we are apt to be found just
about anywhere trying just about anything.
Fi Sweeny is afire with this American spirit. She has volunteered to bring books to the
remote villages of Kenya via a camel bookmobile. No one asked the camels if they wanted to
volunteer and they can be a bit testy about their part in the scheme. Mr. Abasi, her Kenyan partner in the project,
shares the camel’s reluctance. He feels
resources could better be used in the city rather than traipsing around the
bush. Fi finds an ally in Matani, a
village school teacher who wants to help his people join the modern world and
reap its benefits. Sometimes with the
best of intentions, things do not go the way we plan and the reaping of
benefits can involve unintended consequences.
Fall '08/Winter '09 Reading Group List
“When Fiona Sweeney, a librarian from New York City, goes to Kenya to help start a traveling library that brings books to nomadic tribes, she finds that her good deed is complicated by the conflict between those who favor opening the community to the outside world and those who fear the loss of their traditional way of life. Hamilton's novel raises important questions about the role of education and cultural differences, and how one person really can make a difference.”
— Erica Caldwell, Present Tense, Batavia, NY
Fiona Sweeney wants to do something that matters, and she chooses to make her mark in the arid bush of northeastern Kenya. By helping to start a traveling library, she hopes to bring the words of Homer, Hemingway, and Dr. Seuss to far-flung tiny communities where people live daily with drought, hunger, and disease. Her intentions are honorable, and her rules are firm: due to the limited number of donated books, if any one of them is not returned, the bookmobile will not return.
But, encumbered by her Western values, Fi does not understand the people she seeks to help. And in the impoverished small community of Mididima, she finds herself caught in the middle of a volatile local struggle when the bookmobile's presence sparks a dangerous feud between the proponents of modernization and those who fear the loss of traditional ways.
About the Author
A journalist who has worked for NBC Mutual Radio, the Los Angeles Times, the Associated Press, and other well-known news organizations, Masha Hamilton is the author of The Distance Between Us and Staircase of a Thousand Steps. She lives with her family in New York City.
“Masha Hamilton’s portrayal of nomadic culture is lovingly and colorfully told”
— USA Today
Hamilton presents a rare and balanced perspective . . . using rich and evocative prose . . . Highly recommended.
— Library Journal
“a poignant, ennobling, and buoyant tale of risks and rewards, surrender and sacrifice”
— Booklist (starred review)
“The Camel Bookmobile vibrates with the life and landscape of Africa”
— Entertainment Weekly
“Hamilton’s captivating third novel...weaves memorable characters and elemental emotions in artful prose.”
— Publishers Weekly
“Inspired by real events, this captivating story about a determined chick with a big heart will touch you deeply.”