The World is Ours is a coming-of-age story following the lives of Ameena, Shenzi and Kevin. It is set in four countries: Uganda, Kenya, Congo and USA. This gives insight into the sights and sounds of these spaces while relaying vital information about what transpires in terms of politics, mining, streetlife, family, and money matters.
The novel is divided into four books with each book exploring the transition of the characters from children to young adults. Book one opens with Ameena`s story in the 1980s. She is a young Somali girl living in the Somali community in Busia. She is betrothed to marry a man old enough to be her great-grandfather. However, she falls in love with her father’s turn boy, Hassan. With the help of her mother, she elopes with her lover. But life with him turns out to be a difficult one. She is later introduced to the life of a high-end escort in Kenya. And with her beauty and allure, she is premium and only deals with premium clients. It is for this reason that Ameena moves to Uganda for a life of affluence to raise her baby in a new environment.
Book two focuses on Ameena`s integration into Ugandan society while living in Bugolobi flats with her daughter, Shenzi. She is still a highly sought-after escort and it is what pays her bills and keeps Shenzi well fed. But the mother-daughter relationship is strained with Shenzi being blind and reminding Ameena of her lover, Hasan(Shenzi`s father). Her love for her daughter is like a bulb flicking on and off due to a change in voltage. Shenzi recognises the switches but yearns for a constant flow of her mother`s love and Somali folklore which was a mother and daughter bonding ground. Ameena`s lifestyle raises concerns and gossip in the neighbourhood and many pity her daughter who is now left to be raised by the community. She is revered in the community as the most beautiful lady who can have any man she wants. She even wins a seat as the Senga who shares bedroom secrets with her flatmates!
Book three explores the life of young Kevin and Shenzi. The duo is tighter than ice on a cold day that even Bosco, Kevin`s best friend cannot penetrate let alone the other kids on the block. Kevin is Shenzi`s guardian angel. She is blind and he becomes her eyes, describing sunsets, sunrises, and everything she desires to see but cannot. The love they have for one another is palpable and innocent. Due to the nature of her mother`s work, Shenzi spends more time at Kevin`s home. They go to school together, play and eat together. Kevin`s anger issues are exposed whenever his father is around. He constantly and naively defends his mother from neverending abuse. Shenzi is his buffer, voice of reason until a death occurs that changes their lives forever.
Books three and four explore the lives of Shenzi and Kevin as children and later as young adults. The two are separated by the hard knocks of life but still find their way to each other. It is beautiful. Being together makes sense, everything else is jumbled. Shenzi and Kevin literally carry the book and we watch them evolve into brilliant, flawed human beings whose love for each other transcends continents.
The author through flashbacks reveals what happens to Shenzi and Kevin in the different worlds they are in until the point they reconnect.
The book’s narration is through multiple voices which aptly captures how Shenzi and Kevin feel and their view of the world; Ameena`s life story. I loved this about the novel, I could connect with the characters and see their perspective before judging them. It defied the danger of a single story as Chimamanda admonished.
The four books are interlinked as one book feeds into the other to create a powerful, poignant story with strong thematic areas of love and loss, betrayal, culture and gender, tradition, politics, and dominion.
The plot is character-driven and keeps the reader engaged. The vital characters are well fleshed out. However, I would have liked to see more of the lives of Boda and Livingstone, Kevin`s right-hand men on the streets. They seemed to remain in the shadows like they didn’t fit into Kevin’s rich clique. What became of them? Were they jealous of Kevin and his new friends? Did they grumble about not attending his big parties? Did they become dissatisfied with the new and old Kevin?
The novel is rich with information about Somali culture and folklore which enriched it greatly. Readers will have an opportunity to learn something new upon reading this book.
The sex scenes were skillfully executed drawing a balance between sex as we know it (ordinary, missionary style) and sex in its new shapes and forms with a woman not afraid to ask for it. In some African contexts, women aim to please the men while holding themselves back but in this case, Ameena sought to please and be pleased. It was liberating for her to desire and explore sex and the different sex styles.
The novel is well researched and provides great insights into mining in Congo. It is no wonder that with all the minerals the country has, it is still ravaged by poverty. The World is Ours gives insight into what and how capitalists are profiting from gold with the help of the locals. I felt like I understood how it all works.
The novel also reveals inside information about Kampala streetlife. As one who has seen street kids in Kampala, I wondered how the streets worked. Though fictional, the novel weaves a believable tale of what life is like for them.
The language is beautifully peppered with humour in both English and Luganda, therefore, making the story palatable. The novel is fast-paced and compelling in that it holds your attention from page to page. However, some parts in the novel dragged on and I wanted to skip pages but I stuck to reading so I wouldn’t miss anything. Some parts of the narration should have been made shorter as they weighed down the book. But nevertheless, the novel is brilliant.
The World Is Ours is a perfect blend of romance and adventure with the right dosage of plot twists to get you desiring to fling the novel away or humphing in exasperation at the choices of the characters. Honestly, the ending was superb. It felt like the perfect way to end an endless plot full of dark twists and turns.