Hannibal Free Public Library

The Camel Bookmobile

Masha Hamilton

June 29, 2009

Veteran reporter and two-time novelist Masha Hamilton's latest novel takes readers into the remotest areas of the African continent to explore what happens when modern Western traditions are introduced into the very fabric of a third world, traditionally nomadic society. Based on actual events, The Camel Bookmobile tells the story of an American librarian, who permanently alters the bedrock of one Northeastern Kenyan tribe in both positive and negative ways.

1.        Fiction and non-fiction allow readers to explore the world in different ways.  The author
of The Camel Bookmobile, Masha Hamilton, has experience writing both. And, there is a real camel
library that operates out of Garissa.  Why do you think Hamilton chose to write this work as a novelist instead of as a journalist?

2.        The publisher's website, www.harpercollins.com, informs us that the mosquito quotes, though carefully attributed, actually were invented. What do they add to the sections they precede?
3.        What is gained (or lost) by the use of multiple viewpoints to tell this story? How do the various
viewpoints weave together to reinforce the theme of books as instruments of change and growth?
4.        In some ways, the novel is peopled by outsiders. Fi is an interloper in Kenya. Kanika's grandmother, Neema, originally from another place, brought with her the village's first book, the Bible.  Scar Boy is a recluse, and even Matani, by virtue of having been educated elsewhere, is an outsider. Does the novel suggest that outsiders have a role to play in changing their societies?
5.        Does it seem realistic that Fi and Matani would be able to spend the night together?  Other than sexual attraction, why do you think they did?
6.        The public library is sometimes said to be an institution unique to the United States.  Isn't it more universal?  How are the patrons and staff of the Camel Bookmobile similar to those you have encountered in other library settings?  How are they different? Compare and contrast Fi and Mr. Abassi as librarians.  Think about the reasons people steal library books.  Consider the children's eagerness to select the books they will check out and read over the next two weeks.  Also consider the concerns and actions of elders when the villagers encounter new ideas.
7.        Does Fi ever fully realizes that she is caught in the middle of a volatile local struggle when the bookmobile's presence sparks a dangerous feud between the proponents of modernization and those who fear the loss of traditional ways?
8.        At the novel's end, the traditional values seem to win out.  Do you think the ideas from the books will continue  to impact the people of Mididima, even beyond the novel's conclusion?
9.        Can The Camel Bookmobile be seen as an allegory for what's still taking place elsewhere in the world today?
10.       How might both traditional ways and modernity be blended to the benefit of all? Is that possible?

These questions were adapted from questions and commentary found in:  harpercollins.com, bookreporter.com, bookbuddies3.blogspot.com, bookmovement.com, and