I don’t often read memoirs, especially by people I’m not already familiar with, but I was immediately drawn to Ousman Umar‘s North to Paradise. In this short and candid memoir, he describes how he left Ghana to journey for years across Africa and eventually make a home in Spain.
Though North to Paradise just came out this year in English, it was first published in 2019 in Spanish as Viaje al país de los blancos (“journey to the land of the whites”).
North to Paradise is an incredible memoir of an inspiring man. Ousman Umar was born in Ghana, and even as a child, he knew he wanted more. Early on, I enjoyed learning about the Ghanaian culture. For example, Umar doesn’t know his birthday or his exact age, only that he was born on a Tuesday. However, Umar was still young when he decided to make the difficult trek across Africa to the “land of the whites” (Europe).
His journey is complicated, with stops in several cities along the way so he can earn the money needed for the next leg. And in depending on others to guide him, Umar is cheated many times. It’s difficult and unfair for many migrants, especially those from second- and third-world countries and those with limited financial resources.
Umar includes his observations of others who have it even worse than him in the long journey. Girls and women, especially, are often forced into prostitution. Many, Umar included, are victims of sexual assault. My heart breaks for all the atrocities these migrants face.
Much of Umar’s journey is spent traversing dangerous terrain. It’s horrifying to read about his weeks-long trek through the desert, with its punishing heat and near absence of all food or water. Later, his experience in the small boats to make it from Africa to Europe is similarly harrowing.
Finally, Umar’s journey ends in Spain, but is it the paradise he’d hoped for? Even in Spain, Umar faces many tribulations… but also astounding fortune in the kind people he meets. I actually cried at some of the scenes in Barcelona because of how warm-hearted some people are. There is still goodness in this world.
Today, Ousman Umar gives back to those he left behind. His focus is on education and helping people in Ghana.
The writing in North to Paradise is, admittedly, simplistic and to-the-point. Umar also glosses over some things, including only minimal detail in many instances. This doesn’t detract from the book, though. I chose to rate it on his journey and ideas more than the style of writing. And indeed, this memoir shows profound courage amidst dangerous travels, the loss of close friends and family, and entering into a completely foreign society to start afresh.
North to Paradise describes a long and difficult journey, but is ultimately touching and inspiring. Ousman Umar is an incredible man, and I only hope that international migration can become easier and safer for all.
Get the Book
You can buy North to Paradise here – it’s available as a hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audiobook.
|North to Paradise by Ousman Umar|
|Translator||Kevin Gerry Dunn|
|Setting||Ghana; Libya; Spain|
|Number of Pages||159|
|Format I Read||eBook|
|Original Publication Date||April 4, 2019 (Spanish); March 1, 2022 (English)|
The inspiring true story of one man’s treacherous boyhood journey from a rural village in Ghana to the streets of Barcelona—and the path that led him home.
Ousman Umar is a shaman’s son born in a small village in Ghana. Though his mother died giving birth, he spent a contented childhood working the fields, setting traps in the jungle, and living off the land. Still, as strange and wondrous flying machines crisscrossed the skies overhead, Ousman dreamed of a different life. And so, when he was only twelve years old, he left his village and began what would be a five-year journey to Europe.
Every step of the way, as he traveled across the Sahara desert, through the daunting metropolises of Accra, Tripoli, Benghazi, and Casablanca, and over the Mediterranean Sea aboard a packed migrant dinghy, Ousman was handed off like merchandise by a loose network of smugglers and in the constant, foreboding company of “sinkers”: other migrants who found themselves penniless and alone on their way north, unable to continue onward or return home.
But on a path rife with violence, exploitation, and racism, Ousman also encountered friendship, generosity, and hope. North to Paradise is a visceral true story about the stark realities of life along the most dangerous migrant route across Africa; it is also a portrait of extraordinary resilience in the face of unimaginable challenges, the beauty of kindness in strangers, and the power of giving back.
About the Author
Ousman Umar was born in Ghana and immigrated to Europe when he was seventeen. In 2012 he founded NASCO Feeding Minds, an NGO dedicated to the principle that the most effective way to prevent migrants from leaving Ghana for Europe is to provide top-notch opportunities for education and advancement in Ghana. North to Paradise was originally published by Penguin Random House Spain in 2019. He lives in Barcelona.
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