The Communal Significance of The Fortune Men

From Planet 244

by Yasmin Begum

Yasmin Begum celebrates Nadifa Mohamed’s new novel that tells the true story of Mahmood Mattan – executed for a murder he didn’t commit. She argues how the book transcends exoticising stereotypes of Tiger Bay that are often fetishised by Wales’s institutions, and what this means for Cardiff’s Black communities who face state violence today.

Cardiff is home to one of the oldest continuous Black communities in the United Kingdom, and Nadifa Mohamed’s Booker-shortlisted The Fortune Men is set in the heart of mid-twentieth century Tiger Bay. Tiger Bay (now known as Butetown or Cardiff Bay), was built on land reclaimed from the sea, and was home to dozens of nationalities who lived side-by-side in the shadow of a dockland handling more coal than any other port in the world. An area created by the Marquess of Bute, the intimacy with which he named the streets of Tiger Bay after his family members is as much a part of the history of Cardiff as the multicultural communities that The Fortune Men is set among. Industrialisation, race, the maritime world and Empire are interwoven into Welsh history. If anything, the history of Wales cannot be told without the story of Tiger Bay. Furthermore, the story of Tiger Bay surely cannot be told without the tale of Mahmood Mattan.

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