Aug 14, 2013

Bead Bai: Author guided bookclub discussion as per request

1. Relationships/characters in Bead Bai
Talk about the relationship between grandfather and granddaughter. Stepmother/mother and daughter. Have you had experiences of such relationships through singing or storytelling or working with needle and thread?

How do you compare relationships among women and among men in Bead Bai?  How many husband-wife relationships are in Bead Bai? Talk of the different characters in the relationships.

Exclusion and inclusion in cross cultural/religious relationships. What have been your experiences in the country of your origin and in Canada or any other country that you call home now? How would you respond to cross religious or cultural situations today?

How does the author show where ‘the other’ comes from? Does he have a bias?

2. Style and structure
Does the writing style give a sense of tradition? 

How would you define the structure of this historical/ethnographic fiction? Does the structure have anything to do with tradition?

Did you feel the author’s first language is not English? How does the author give a sense of being a non native speaker of English? Read a paragraph or two to illustrate. Does that give a tone to the storyteller’s voice?

Did you sense the rhythm in the background? Where does the storyteller speak about rhythm? Read a paragraph or a line that you found musical. How does the rhythm compliment the voice of the storyteller?

Do vernacular concepts give depth to what is said?  e.g. shukhar  rass  mothaj e’sikar  darshan-deedar – check the glossary. Are these too many or unexplained or unnecessary? Any of these concepts that you felt deeply about in your own mother tongue/culture? e.g. mothaj.

Why do you think the writer included the chapter on ‘Loving Gujarati’?

3. Journeys
Talk about journeys in Bead Bai as transformative processes. Have you had similar experiences of journeys?

4. History/religion/culture
How is history/religion/culture  told? How are the characters' lives shaped by history/religion/culture? Is it important to keep these consciousnesses in families? How can we do that?

Do you think the author speaks unfavourably about any/all religions or cultural communities?

In what ways does Dadabapa illustrate the immigrant experience?  Does this continue to happen today? Compare the experience of immigration narrated in Bead Bai  on women’s lives with stories from Tajikistan today:

Does the book help to appreciate where the immigrants/seniors come from? Help to reflect on the expanding diaspora world today?

Do the characters consciously maintain historical/religious/cultural consciousness?

5. Landscape/Nature
Land has a presence in the story. Why is it important for the writer to give so much space to land?

6. Ethnic art
How does the writer bring dignity to women’s art commonly called 'craft'? What does ethnic art tell you about Sakina? 

Discuss this: Ethnic art gives communal joy. It is shared aesthetics and that is important for community life/wellbeing. 

"Handmade goods surely have more of the maker’s spirit in them and, because gift-exchange is about connecting people to each other, the handmade thing will always be a better vehicle for the spirit of the gift." - Lewis Hyde author of The Gift in an interview by Gloria Robinson,

Consider how the above quote relates to hand designed work (or artefacts or material culture) mentioned in the book as communal gifts reflecting on cultures as settings.

Can you think of other stories or movies where an object is important to the story?

Are there objects in your life that have travelled with you? That tell your story? In what ways?

Did Bead Bai change your idea of ethnic art - embroidery, beadwork? Will you think of patterned art vs high art or machine made art differently?

7. Beauty
Why is Beauty important to the protagonist? In what ways is the connection between aesthetic pleasure, peace and pain described in Bead Bai?

8. Spirits as background characters
How is the presence of the spirits made known? Does Sakina’s society live in two worlds? Can this be true or is it in the writer’s imagination?

9. Talk about the different ways how the family experiences new identities in Africa that’s not totally Indian or Asian.
How are shifting identities explained to reflect on the characters? What would you call the idenity of Asians settled over generations in Africa? Have you consciously thought of how the new land has changed you?

10. Intra-religious/community tensions
How do women cope with men’s politics? Do you know of families or persons or communities  with two or more religious or cultural identities?

Aug 13, 2013

Bead Bai: Author interview in Kitaab: Asian Writing in English, Singapore

Why did you choose the story of a bead-maker as the subject of your first novel? Was there something larger than the story that inspired you?

 Click below:

Bead Bai Author interview in Kitaab: Asian Writing in English, Singapore

Jun 19, 2013

Bead Bai Review on
by Mehboob Habib 

Sultan Somji has done an superb job of collecting personal stories from family/community Elders and weaved these stories into an amazing narrative of the trials and tribulations of a community in migration.

Jun 9, 2013

Bead Bai - Review by Elaine Miranda (Painter)

Bead Bai - Review Written by

Elaine Miranda (Painter) on

5.0 out of 5 stars - A must read. May 23 2013

There are two ingredients that I require in a book selection, a great story and engaging complex characters. Bead Bai meets both of these expectations and delivers so much more. Sultan Somjee is the consummate storyteller and he writes with the same artistic vision as his main character, Sakina. She exhibits incredible depth and strength in her journey to become the artist she is destined to be. Somjee's Bead Bai took me to an exciting colourful world and he taught me things about a culture I knew nothing about and all with the breathtaking canvas of Africa setting the stage. The writing is rich and textured and weaves like a tapestry taking his characters on a journey towards their respective destinies.

Although I enjoyed getting to know all of the characters in Bead Bai I especially connected with Sakina. I now feel that she is a friend of mine and I have been there to share in her fears, to lament her losses and to celebrate her triumphs. I have watched her grow from a young girl, to a wife, mother and ultimately into the artist every fiber of her being demands of her.

To quote Somjee "one needs to eat this story" chew it slowly and savour every morsel.

Bead Bai - Reader Review on by Mathew

5.0 out of 5 stars Lyrical. Fascinating. Magical, May 9, 2013

A lyrical journey through the eclectic atmospheres and vibrant cultures of the East African Coast.
Through the eyes of the protagonist we experience the diversity of thought, language, expression, ritual and tradition as she deals with the challenges, trials and tribulations of life as a woman and as a merchant in East Africa. A must-read, for those who would like to understand the cultural diversity and get a taste of the cultures during a time of large changes to coastal East Africa. Who better to tell the story than an ethnographer, who grew up and experienced these cultures first hand. Get ready to be swept away on a magical journey of forbidden desires and fascinating characters in this spellbinding novel.

Link to the review 

Apr 20, 2013

Bead Bai: Sunday Nation Review

".... if like me, you look at the face again after reading the 450-page tome, you would be forgiven for losing yourself in sheer rapture of the woman who has made you fall in love with her story. Why? Because a male writer has given birth to her in his book and clothed her with the ghosts and memories of Kenya history’s past"

Read more in the Sunday Nation review, a major Kenyan newspaper

Mar 9, 2013

Bead Bai Review Vancouver

Read the first review of Bead Bai in Review Vancouver, an arts and literature mazagine

Review Vancouver Link 


Mar 5, 2013

Bead Bai released for distribution

 Bead Bai is released by CreateSpace and Amazon. You can purchase directly from either one. You can also get a copy through your local bookstores if you place an order.

I will continue to post more information, pictures and links. If you have family stories to tell about Bais in the dukas, please write to me. I look forward to share stories from all communities not only Ismaili Khojas. Although I write about Ismaili Khojas (because I grew up in the community), you will find the book speaks to a wider Asian African people.  We can work out how your stories can be shared and remembered. If your family traded in beads in East Africa, I would like to mention  the names of your grandmothers and great aunts and thus document their work for posterity.

You can read the conversation on this book below under comments. As of today, there have been over 20,800 pageviews. In a survey 164 out of 165 marked YES they would buy the book when published.

Thank you all for your interest and patience. Please do write a comment or two when you can.

Best regards,
Sultan Somjee   
સુલતાન સોમજી

Ethnographer and writer

Mar 1, 2013

Bead Bai: Gujarati writing on the book cover

The Gujarati writing on the book cover (see to your right) appeared on Bead Shops in East Africa: ખોટા મોતી ના સાચા વેપારી  meaning Of imitation pearls we are genuine merchants.  It may be that the storekeepers in East Africa had taken this phrase (that never fails to amuse Gujarati speakers), from the bead shops in Gujarat. Beads from German glass manufacturing families in Bohemia (that later became a part of Czechoslovakia) were popular in Gujarat. Gujarati bead merchants in East Africa imported a large variety of beads from Czechoslovakia for the ethnic people when they came to know them, and trade. 

In recent memory people remember how Sunderji Hemraj's bead shops in both Mombasa and Nairobi had ખોટા મોતી ના સાચા વેપારી written at the entrances. Sunderji Hemraj grew to be the largest importer and distributor of beads in East Africa.