BOOK REVIEW: This is What America Looks Like


By Shamsuddeen Sani

Author: Ilhan Omar
Date of Publication 2020
Number of pages 275

I read this book last weekend and was glad that I did. It is an autobiography of Ilhan Omar, one of the first 2 Muslim women ever elected to the US Congress and the first black woman to ever represent the state of Minnesota at the House of Representatives in the country. It is a great nugget of life lessons.

This moderately sized but non-bulky book was divided into 20 chapters! For someone whose significant chunk of her childhood was punctuated by a devastating civil war in Somalia, the first 4 chapters were entirely dedicated to narrating the ordeal of her life before coming to the US at the age of 12. Damn! Her life was tough and to say that she went to hell and back was an understatement. It must have been a miracle surviving such a a stormy childhood. You could palpably feel the doggedness of her other family members wanting to get through all the adversities as life handed them all the sucker punches.

The book portrays the gripping tales of hardships associated with her childhood back in Somalia. Ilhan was naturally a unique person in her own realm. Her idiosyncratic tendencies meant she would have to stand for herself even deploying fierce anger and uncommon courage. These jarring traits, as later chapters would show, shaped who she had become in life, propelling her to achieve the ‘American dream’.

Quirky Ilhan wasn’t left alone with the eventful childhood back in Somalia and another 4 years at a refugee camp in Kenya, but she would later breakdown with a midlife crisis of early adulthood in America. This later experience tremendously placed her on a trajectory of self discovery which she turned into the source of her strength and success. Her story is rooted in the contradictions of the clash of culture and her past and the author’s efforts to engage honestly in order to achieve inner peace. And I am glad she did. At least from the book pages towards the end.

Ilhan wrote this book with a very simplistic style and provided a vivid yet descriptive account of her life. I had expected better adjectives to capture readers and drag them all the way to the end of the book anyway. In my opinion, it is what blurred some of the compelling details of her story in the book.

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