I write to understand. My two books were both inspired by the urge to understand the great mysteries of my life. I felt I couldn’t die in peace until I could say, I understand. The first great mystery was my job, which took me to war torn Somalia, and the second was my mother, who helped me understand the significance of a life well lived.
My first book, NIGHTFALL IN MOGADISHU, is a historical novel and spy thriller set in Somalia. I was an aid worker in Somalia in the late eighties, just before the government collapsed and Somalia became a failed state.
During my work there, I found the Somalis to be a warm and hospitable people. Most of the population was still nomadic, roaming the Horn of Africa with their camels as they had for thousands of years. Their society was organized into clans, and people looked to their clan for everything from personal and financial security to marriage. The women were beautiful and strong, dispelling my impression that Islamic women were oppressed. Mogadishu, the capital, was a quaint but charming city, with its blend of Italian and Arab cultures and fantastic view of the Indian Ocean.
However, the president, Siad Barre, was a brutal dictator who persecuted any clan that opposed him. He was finally ousted after twenty-two years in power. Inexperienced in the art of nation building, the clans were unable to form a new government, and thus began the country’s descent into chaos.
I wanted answers to this tragedy. I went to the library and checked out every book there was on Somalia. But to me, reading wasn’t enough. I had to write about it. A person can do as much reading on a subject as he wants, but if he doesn’t go through the process of writing about it, which is a way of synthesizing all the pieces, he can never come up with his own vision. So I spun all the pieces together into a spy thriller full of international intrigue (with a bit of sex thrown in). At the end of it, I was able to gain a deeper understanding of what had happened in Somalia. Unfortunately, the same story is unfolding in neighboring countries such as Libya and Yemen.
My second great mystery was my mom. About ten years ago when my parents were getting on in age, I moved them from California to live with me in the Washington, DC area. My father was crabby, which was no surprise. But what surprised me was my mother. She had always been sweet and saintly, but in her old age, she had become cranky and demanding. I began to wonder who this stranger was. Fortunately for me, she loved to tell stories about her life. I sat down with her and taped her stories.
I wove her stories into a memoir, JOURNEY ACROSS THE FOUR SEAS. It was then that I realized what an extraordinary life my ordinary mom had led. Born and raised in Hong Kong, she bootstrapped herself out of poverty and became one of the first Chinese women to go to college. (Before her, Chinese women had to stay home because they had bound feet!) She survived tuberculosis, two wars and a difficult marriage, raised five children and brought them to the U.S. to pursue the American dream.
But what she did wasn’t just for the family. She paved the way for all women. In spite of her degree in economics, job opportunities for women were limited in her days. For many years, my mom did the backbreaking work of a keypunch operator. But the wave she started has kept on moving forward. One generation builds on another. Today there’s no limit to what a woman can do.
I was very happy that the book was published when my mom was still alive. After she read it, all her crankiness went away. She realized that a person didn’t have to be rich and famous to make a mark in the world. In fact, it’s ordinary people who shape human history. She went in peace, knowing the value of her life.
Both books are available as paperback and Kindle edition at Amazon.com.
You can also order the paperbacks at http:/veronicali.com
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