Books·Canadian

The Youth of God

A novel by Hassan Ghedi Santur.

Hassan Ghedi Santur

The Youth of God tells the story of Nuur, a sensitive and academically gifted 17-year-old boy growing up in Toronto's Somali neighbourhood, as he negotiates perilously between the calling of his faith and his intellectual ambitions. Trying to influence him are a radical Muslim imam and a book-loving, dedicated teacher who shares his background. In its telling, this novel reveals the alienated lives of Somali youth in an environment riddled with crime and unemployment, while still in the grip of bitter memories of a home left behind. This intensely moving novel is also a powerful allegory of the struggle for the soul of Islam in modern times. (From Mawenzi House)

The Youth of God is on the Canada Reads 2020 longlist. The final five books and their champions will be revealed on Jan. 22, 2020.

Hassan Ghedi Santur is a journalist who has worked for CBC Radio. He is also the author of the novel Something Remains and the nonfiction book Maps of Exile.

From the book

Mr Ilmi loved the view from the window of his classroom. Every season had its charm, but this was his favourite time of the year when the leaves on the giant maple tree outside were at their greenest. He watched the branches sway in the wind. A storm was gathering, he could tell — the sky looked dark and foreboding. A breeze brought in a scent of freshly mowed grass. The soft sound of rustling leaves beckoned memories of the big tree that grew in his childhood home, memories that were quickly interrupted by the shuffling of pages, the creaks of chairs and the occasional cough.

Mr Ilmi turned around from the window, leaned against the pane and watched his students writing his final exam. It was mid June and in a few days the school year would end. So much had happened that year, yet so much remained the same.


From The Youth of God by Hassan Ghedi Santur ©2019. Published by Mawenzi House.

Why Hassan Ghedi Santur wrote The Youth of God

"The literal translation of al-Shabaab is 'the youth.' I've done a lot of research about the history of the group and how they portray themselves and the function that they think they serve. They see themselves as the youth that is representing God's will or God's wishes. I found it interesting that they see themselves as the representatives of God.

"Back in 2012-13, when I started writing the novel, there were stories in the news about young Somali kids who were indoctrinated and radicalized in various parts of Canada and were sent to Somalia to fight for al-Shabaab. One of the articles I read said that 20 young men may have gone to fight for al-Shabaab through this particular way of slowly being radicalized, slowly being indoctrinated. I was curious as to why a young Somali kid who's never even been to Somalia would be compelled to leave the only life they've ever known in order to fight for this organization in a faraway land.  

I was curious as to why a young Somali kid who's never even been to Somalia would be compelled to leave the only life they've ever known in order to fight for this organization in a faraway land.- Hassan Ghedi Santur

"I was working backwards and trying to find potential answers for why something like that would happen. A lot of the stories had one particular theme that was running through them: a sense of alienation, a sense of feeling like they don't fit in, they don't belong. That sense of alienation makes the idea of finding a home — sometimes a literal home and sometimes an emotional home — quite attractive to these young men. It can give them a sense of identity and a sense of belonging in the world."

Read more in his interview with CBC Books.