Unlike other book reviews here on my blog The Ghosts and Jamal is not a picture book. Published by Hope Road, a publisher that focuses on Africa, Asia and Caribbean literature and written by Bridget Blankley, this is certainly a read that gives voice to Nigerian culture, prejudice and disability.
Aimed at young adults, I was rather intrigued by the book when it was first introduced to me, the bold front cover and title had me thinking all possibilities but my predictions were wrong and my only regret is that I didn’t complete the book sooner. It certainly is a book that you cannot put down.
Set in Nigeria, Jamal is a thirteen year old boy who wakes up to upset. His world around him has changed dramatically. A terrorist attack in his community has killed everyone he knows. His survival seems astonishing but as the story unfolds readers discover that his survival is due to his isolated existence. Jamal suffers from epilepsy but his condition is deemed as “the bringer of bad spirits.” The extended family he did have left decided that due to his condition he were best to live in a separate hut, away from all. His distant hut then avoided the attack but sadly is he a sole survivor.
Through out the novel you discover that the prejudice Jamal experiences because of his epilepsy aren’t what a small number of people think but what many think in this story. His condition is misunderstood and Jamal himself is not fully aware, calling his episodes “spirits.” He is not aware of how things could be different and his introduction to medicine only occurs when he is hospitalised.
Jamal leaves his hut on a journey to find his grandfather and to find out who was behind the attack “ghosts.” He departs with a blanket that reminds him of his mother and a copy of the Quran. A local Imam gifted him the Quran. Islam is subtly referred to throughout the novel. The Quran is also mentioned a few times in the book as it is one of Jamal’s prized possession but Bridget Blankley also uses it to explore prejudices that many Muslims experience. When Jamal is found with the Quran we discover that some thought he could have been a terrorist and a soldier explains that on finding the Quran “I should have had it destroyed, but I checked it out and it’s OK.”
One of the first interactions we witness as readers is a man Jamal finds up in the mountains. He believes he is his grandfather but the man he meets is cruel, so cruel and shortly after leaving him he collapses and is found by soldiers. It is from here that you see Jamal being looked after, his condition improving and him making positive friendships. However, it doesn’t last forever.
Jamal is young and while others may describe him as “simple” he is an individual who requires time to think and absorb ideas. As a reader you witness Jamal becoming more confident in himself. He has a caring soul and some of his friendships highlight that but sadly his caring, gentle nature is taking advantage of. I so wanted to read more about Jamal and felt the ending of the book was abrupt and rushed somewhat however, it certainly displayed Jamal’s quick thinking.
Bridget Blankley cleverly writes about Jamal’s life post the terrorist attack. He experiences so much hardship, violence and prejudice and he is so young, which Bridget Blankley writes about so realistically. The book explores many different themes including friendship, hope, homelessness and bravery. It is no surprise that Bridget Blankley’s manuscript of this book won her an award, it is definitely a read that I would recommend.
Thank you to Hope Road Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. All opinions and words are entirely my own.