View From My Hotel, 4/19/13

Welcome to LA! It’s pretty much the same as I left it in January. Which, frankly, is a bit of a relief.

Pre-order Signed, Personalized Human Division Hardcovers from Jay & Mary’s Book Center


I’m going to head out on tour for The Human Division in May, but some of you won’t be places where I will be going and might want signed, personalized copies of the book. If this includes you, I have good news: Before I head out on tour, I’ll be stopping by my local independent bookstore, Jay and Mary’s Book Center, to sign copies of THD for them. Which means that if you’re in the US, you can call into the store and get one or more signed (and personalized) from me, for yourself or as a gift.

Here’s all you have to do:

1. Call the bookstore by April 28 (follow that link above for the number), and ask to preorder a copy of The Human Division.

2. Let the folks at the store know who the book is for (you or your intended gift recipient) and what, if any, personal message you would like added (please keep it short; I’ll have a fair number of these to write).

3. Give them your payment information when they ask. Remember your price will include shipping.

And that should pretty much be it.

Please note that all orders need to be in by April 28, so the books can arrive in time for me to sign them before I go on tour. If you try to order after April 28, I can’t guarantee that I’ll be able to sign your book until I get back from my tour at the very end of May.

Note that in addition to Jay & Mary’s, you can also get in touch with any of the bookstores I’m going to while I’m on tour, and I’ll be happy to sign a book for you when I’m there. But if you just can’t wait to get a signed, personalized copy, the books at Jay & Mary’s will ship the very day the book is out. Plus, you’ll be supporting my local bookstore, and that makes me happy.

Again, orders have to be in by the 28th of April, so don’t wait too long. Thanks!

The Big Idea: Sofia Samatar

In the novel A Stranger in Olondria, reading is the thing. But author Sofia Samatar asks: Is it the only thing? Here are her further thoughts about a life of letters (and beyond).


When I wrote A Stranger in Olondria, I wanted a whole world of my own, with all the details: hymns and hairstyles and dialects and desserts. Above all, I wanted books—and not just books, but literary history. I wanted to create both a world and its libraries.

The result is a novel about reading. Jevick, the main character, comes from a non-literate society, but his Olondrian tutor teaches him to read and write. After that, all Jevick wants is to travel to Olondria, the land of books. But when his dream comes true, his life starts falling apart: he becomes haunted by the ghost of an illiterate young woman from his own country.

Jevick’s quest to get rid of his ghost brings up all sorts of issues he’s tried to suppress, such as his rejection of his homeland and his status as a wealthy merchant. It also throws him into a struggle he doesn’t understand, a violent conflict between rival Olondrian cults. His dilemma allowed me to explore not only the contradictions of self-imposed exile, but also the question of how well one can ever “know” a foreign culture. Jevick thinks he knows Olondria because he’s read about it, and because he possesses a single Olondrian friend, his tutor. He quickly realizes how much is missing from his view of this foreign country, including things his tutor has deliberately hidden from him.

He also begins to question the meaning of reading. Jevick lives to read, but he must come to terms with a world in which not everyone is literate, in which certain things are lost in the transition from an oral to a literate condition, and in which literacy is linked to oppressive power.

I wrote A Stranger in Olondria in Yambio, South Sudan, where I taught high school English: that is, I was working between languages, and between oral and written traditions. The experience brought home to me the links between reading and writing, my favorite activities, and the history of colonialism. This was an awareness I’d grown up with, as my father, a Somali academic, wrote a book about Somali oral poetry and the anti-colonial struggle, and dedicated it to my brother and me. It was in Sudan, though, that these issues crystallized for me, leading to a book that celebrates reading, while also expressing some anxiety about it.

Without giving too much away, I can say that Jevick’s choices reflect his growing awareness that reading, while wonderful, isn’t everything. It isn’t the story. Most stories, in both Jevick’s world and ours, can’t be read. These are the stories of those who do not or cannot write, or of those whose writings are destroyed, deprived of interpreters, illegible or lost.

Ultimately, A Stranger in Olondria is a book-lover’s book, one that takes reading seriously, in all its beauty and terror. I worked hard to reflect some of the tensions between oral and literate cultures without taking a stand in favor of either. And along the way, I got to make up religious texts, epic poetry, manuals for dream interpretation, painting styles and critiques of painting styles, pamphlets on etiquette, musical genres and children’s books.

Of course, not all of that material wound up in the novel! I’ve got enough left over to fill a library.


A Stranger in Olondria: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s blog.