The first Graywolf Press African Fiction Prize winner, a story of a girl’s fantastical sea voyage to rescue her father
The House of Rust is an enchanting novel about a Hadhrami girl in Mombasa. When her fisherman father goes missing, Aisha takes to the sea on a magical boat made of a skeleton to rescue him. She is guided by a talking scholar’s cat (and soon crows, goats, and other animals all have their say, too). On this journey Aisha meets three terrifying sea monsters. After she survives a final confrontation with Baba wa Papa, the father of all sharks, she rescues her own father, and hopes that life will return to normal. But at home, things only grow stranger.
Khadija Abdalla Bajaber’s debut is a magical realist coming-of-age tale told through the lens of the Swahili and diasporic Hadhrami culture in Mombasa, Kenya. Richly descriptive and written with an imaginative hand and sharp eye for unusual detail, The House of Rust is a memorable novel by a thrilling new voice.
An intrepid Hadrami girl rescues her father from mythical foes in this striking if slightly cluttered debut. Aisha's father, Ali, is a restless widower fisherman with a knack for finding the best hauls off the cost of Mombasa, Kenya. When he does not return one evening, everyone assumes he has been lost at sea. Aisha, however, rejects this idea and decides to set off in search of him. With the help of a talking cat, Hamza, and the boat of bones he provides her, she sets out into the ocean and faces down several enemies, including Baba wa Papa, a massive talking shark. She brings a nonresponsive Ali back to land where magical healer Zubeir cuts open Ali's heart and removes his yearning for the sea. Ali, now at peace on land, and encouraged by his mother, Swafiya, who has recently remarried, plans Aisha's wedding to an egg merchant. But Aisha wants more adventure and tries to track down Hamza, who disappeared while Aisha hoisted Ali ashore. After dead ends and frustrations, she makes progress in the search with unlikely allies, but finds herself facing alarming danger. While the loose plot threads and continuous introduction of folkloric creatures don't all cohere, Bajaber's depictions of Aisha's daring episodes and her feminist personality consistently shimmer. Fans of modern fairy tales will find much to appreciate.