The Boy & the Old Man

The Boy & the Old Man

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So who is Omar Eby? A retired English professor (tenderhearted and cynical) who looks with affection and severity upon the young man he once was in Somalia. Ebya€™s first chapter a€œLearning My Namea€ quickly and playfully sets the tone for this fascinating memoir, The Boy and the Old Man. Identifying with one Omar after another, Eby skips from a Taliban terrorist and a four-star general to a translator of Somali tales and an Old Testament duke; then recalls an English student in Mogadiscio and an Epicurean Persian poet; meets a Chilean Anabaptist and finally names the close friend of Prophet Muhammad, Omar ibn al Khattab. You think this an exercise in narcissism? Of course nota€”the author finds too many ties linking a naAmve Mennonite missionary boy to Muslim society and the incredible beauty of the natural worlda€”shows too well the tensions between documented facts and dramatic memory. On the horn of Africa, Somali pirates seize tankers. On the mainland, clans fire rockets into each othera€™s quarters of Mogadishu, once the capital of the Somali Republic. But Omar Eby remembers another Somalia, when he taught there 50 years ago. Through the grid of accumulated years, Eby studies that missionary boy. The reader hears two voices: the 23-year old boy and the 73-year old man. Often the old man loves the boy; often the boy embarrasses him. The Somalis, Eby remembers as beautiful and exasperating, then, in 1959, as now, in 2009. The chapters are like a series of transparencies laid down one on top of the other. The boya€™s views overlaid by the mana€™s two visits to Somalia in his thirties and then memory laid over everything. With more details, everything should be clearer. a€œYet, a€ Eby writes in the Introduction, a€œwe are pleasantly surprised to find that the historically reconstructed self is still blurred, as muddy as the Shebelli River which flows through Somalia from the Ethiopian highlands.a€That fact doesnotquiet the heart, nordoes the recitation ofthe litany of warscarred children: Burundi, Rwanda, Darfur ... not want to come down on either sideof an English journalist observing MotherTeresa andherSisters ofCharity in Calcutta.

Title:The Boy & the Old Man
Author:Omar Eby
Publisher:Xlibris Corporation - 2009-02-09


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