City of St Bees by Valeria Borghese
“Nemo Esteem” by Valeria Borghese is the first book in a series called “The Only Fans”. I enjoyed this book and found that, for my purposes, it was not too different from the rest of the books that Borghese has written. This one, however, is different. It’s about a fan, Nelelle, who becomes so obsessed with the fact that her boyfriend has left her that she burns his name into her heart with a razor blade. Nelelle becomes a virtual wreck, unable to function without knowing where her boyfriend is, what he does for a living, or who he sees and talks to on a daily basis. This book is very depressing and really deals with heavy emotional issues which many readers might find difficult to deal with.
The novel starts off in Nelelle’s high school, where she is studying abroad in Tanzania. There, she meets Saleem, who is an American expat who is studying in the same school as her. Within a few days of their initial meeting, Saleem is murdered by a gang of Somalis who capture and murder Saleem for being a westerner who has a Western girl love interest. This shocks Nelelle, who cannot fathom how anyone could think like this, but soon enough, she begins to realize that her love for Saleem must be real.
Nelelle and Saleem’s story is told through the point of view of Saleem’s older brother Sidi. While traveling in their car, they are ambushed by members of the “Mubarakate Boys”, an armed group of youths who demand that they hand over their money and release a captured man. As a result, Saleem gets killed – though his death is initially misconstrued by Saleem’s friends as being a mercy killing – and Nelelle is captured along with two other Americans. However, Saleem’s captors reveal that they are Americans, and that their intention is not to free any Americans that were mistakenly seized by the Somalis. Instead, they want only to execute two of them for a list of “murderers” that the group is planning to execute.
Following the events of their first kidnapping, Saleem is offered freedom in an American prison – but on his way out, he is captured once more and taken to a prison in Africa. This time, he is in charge. He tortures other inmates to force them to tell the name of the people who ordered their kidnap. Meanwhile, Nelelle arrives at the prison and overhears a conversation in which Saleem tells his captors about his plan to free all Americans being held hostage in Africa. However, before he can carry out his plan, Nelelle gets shot by one of the prisoners. He dies later on at home.
The novel ends with Saleem’s death. He is buried in a grave in a foreign land, which is owned by his former college friend Sidi. However, when Saleem’s ex-girlfriend Tafeel contacts Sidi, he has to return to America – and tell her about his former girlfriend’s murder. This is where Saleem’s novel gains its poignancy. For a man who knows the lengths to which people will go to protect their freedom, he chooses to shoot rather than plead with the international terrorists about freeing all Americans being held hostage in Africa.
Overall, Borghese creates a likable, interesting heroine. Her use of language is dry and sometimes confusing. But, if you are not hooked on action, fighting, or mystery – Borghese’s novel is not for you.