Ousman Umar's story is inspiring and powerful, but it should have been written better.
North to Paradise: A Memoir tells the first-person account of immigration to Europe from West Africa. It follows the author's journey as he zig-zags across the continent with various migrant groups searching for a better life, and climaxes with his harrowing crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. Ousman's story, at times, seems unbelievable, especially when one considers how young he was when he makes his journey. He is a helpless observer to many of the world's most horrendous injustices and documents his experiences in detail. What is perhaps most remarkable though, is that through all the hardship and tragedy his spirit remains unbroken. He never loses his ability to find life's beauty. Motivated by his travels as an immigrant, Ousman Umar now seeks to help others from similar backgrounds find opportunities to better their lives.
My Review: 3/5
I experienced strong conflicting feelings while reading North to Paradise. The story is awe-inspiring. I kept reading because I had to know how it ends. However, the writing is not good. Because this edition is a translation of a book originally written in Spanish, I'm not entirely sure who is to blame for the stilted prose, but the end result is not enjoyable to read. The memoir is also poorly structured. Many of Ousman's core values are introduced three-quarters of the way through the book without being developed at all. He even contradicts himself at times. The contradictions would be acceptable if the book initially set out to tell a story of personal transformation. However, it is not apparent that was the goal.
Like the structure, many of the overarching themes are underdeveloped. They enter the plot abruptly and with arrogance, and leave the discussion just as quickly. Overall, the tone feels like an outline or the first draft of a better book. This half-baked nature is a real shame as the story is so impactful. The merits of the adventure are what carried me through, and not the written words that are contained between the covers of North to Paradise.
Last, but certainly not least offensive were the handful of what appeared to be editorial comments inserted within the story. I refer to these moments as insertions because they do not match the context or content of the book where they occur, and they are always political in nature. Perhaps I am wrong, and Ousman's original manuscript contains this commentary, but if that is the case then his political agenda is in need of elaboration just like the rest of the book. However, my impression while reading was that these were the translator's opinions seeping into the work. Either way, this is just another example of how poorly the story in North to Paradise is represented by its writing.
Regardless of the many shortcomings of this book, I would still recommend it because of Ousman Umar's inspirational experiences as an immigrant. North to Paradise is a good story that deserved better.
The English translation of North to Paradise: A Memoir by Ousman Umar will be published on March 1, 2022, by Amazon Crossing. You can pre-order your copy on Amazon.
Corey D. Evans received an advance reader's copy of this book and was not financially compensated for his review.