Hassan Ghedi Santur’s novel The Youth of God is a heart-stopping story that traces the life of Nuur, a teenager growing up in a Somali neighbourhood of Toronto. This is also a story about Mr. Ilmi, Nuur’s kind-hearted teacher, who has experienced a sense of displacement from his own faith and culture. Through Mr. Ilmi’s eyes, we get a glimpse into the ways in which the education system fails racialized students and teachers. Santur effortlessly depicts a cross-section of the Somali community, with all its complexity, from the devout to the doubting.
Nuur is a sensitive and intelligent boy torn between his academic dreams and his sense of duty to his religion. Santur masterfully documents the susceptibility of youth to believe in a cause they may not fully understand, and the ways in which bad choices are frequently based in a need for survival and belonging. Through a series of escalating consequences that unravel at a furious pace, Santur demonstrates the concurrent failure of institutional systems and good-hearted individuals to protect disenfranchised youth.
The desire to wrap things up in a perfect bow might be tempting for any writer, but such a resolution would be far from the uncomfortable reality of the way stories like this play out in the real world. By refusing any easy conclusion, Santur honours the truth of these unfinished narratives and does so with a keen attention to human behaviour, including the grief that haunts many survivors of war.
In its essence, The Youth of God is a story about love, and how the lack of embodied love can starve a young person’s ability to make choices in their best interests. It is a painful reminder of the immense vulnerability of promising third-culture kids who navigate a double exile. While nominally a work of fiction, The Youth of God should be read as a cautionary tale of what can transpire when at-risk youth are allowed to slip through the cracks.