LiU alumna debuts as novelist

Suad Ali, LiU’s Alumna of the Year for 2016, is to publish her debut novel – about a woman who flees from Somalia to Sweden.
“I want to change the narrative that displaced women are always helpless victims”, she says.

Suad Ali Suad Ali. Photo: Kajsa Göransson

Three-year-old Suad Ali fled with her family from Somalia to Sweden in the 1990s. She grew up in Åtvidaberg and Linköping, with well-educated parents. So the step to university studies at LiU was not big. She graduated in political science, aiming for a career working with international issues. And so it came to be. Her passion for human rights led to work with migration at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Swedish Migration Agency. In 2018 she was featured on ‘Sommar’ (Summer), a popular radio show in Sweden, and the same year she was included on Forbes “30 Under 30” list for Europe – Law and Policy.

You have built an impressive career. And now you’ve written a book. How do you find the time and the energy?
“I don’t. It’s a lot about planning, prioritising and making sacrifices. But sometimes, these things aren’t enough. So I took time off work, in several periods, to write the book. During the past year I’ve been living in Jordan, so I could study Arabic and finish the story. I returned to Sweden in March, because of the pandemic.”

From Somalia to Sweden

The main character in the beautifully titled book Dina händer var fulla av liv (Your hands were full of life) is called Nora. She is a privileged young woman with a free and good life in Somalia, before civil war breaks out. A trained teacher, she is happily married, and has a child. The reader follows Nora before, during and after her escape from war-torn Somalia to Sweden in 2015.
“We often don’t see the people until they get here. We don’t know who they are; what happened earlier is very important.”

Literature takes us to new places

Suad Ali. Suad Ali, Alumna of the year 2016.
Photo: Vibeke Mathiesen
Suad Ali hopes that the book will be read by people who can relate to being a refugee, as well as by people who can’t.
“Literature takes us to places and people we otherwise wouldn’t meet. I want to portray what war and conflict do to women. What it’s like to go from privileged to unprivileged.”

Proud and equal

Nora goes from being a talented teacher in Mogadishu to cleaning in a school in Sandviken. She becomes dependent on the state bureaucracy as well as on Swedish individuals who expect subservient gratitude when they provide private assistance. Nora is proud; she doesn’t want to be disadvantaged. She wants to be on equal terms, and to use her skills to make a contribution in her new country.

Five years of writing

Suad Ali has been writing since she was a child. The story in her book is fictitious, but she points out that what happens in it is commonplace for many people:
“Writing a book is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. For the first two years I kept quiet about it; I attended writing courses and wrote on my own. This gave me calm; no one knew about it and I wasn’t asked any questions that put pressure on me. It took me five years to complete the book.”

Started book clubs

At the end of September she will participate in various seminars at the digital book fair in Gothenburg. One of the seminars is about book clubs, and Suad will talk about the book club that she and a friend started when they moved to Stockholm in 2018.
“We had no place where we could talk about books, so we used social media to find out if there were others who were also interested. We got loads of responses, and the clubs have now spread to Malmö, Gothenburg and Linköping. The participants get book suggestions, information and questions about the books from us, and we try to ensure the clubs are diverse in terms of people’s background, age, class and ethnicity. My own club consists of 11 people; we’re now a tight-knit group, it’s really brilliant.”

Combining writing with global work

Suad Ali plans to continue her writing, alongside her work with global issues. She is on leave from her job, a migration expert at the Swedish Migration Agency, but she can also see herself working with other international issues, such as the environment, sustainability, education, or water and sanitation.
“There’s a lot of scope – let’s see where my next step takes me.”

Suad Ali’s book Dina händer var fulla av liv will be published in Swedish by Norstedts förlag.

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