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Book Review – ‘Shining: The Story of a Lucky Man’

ShiningCoverTitle: Shining: The Story of a Lucky Man
Author: Abdi Aden with Robert Hillman
Genre: Biography
Release Date: June 1, 2015
Rating: ★★★★

“A remarkably warm-hearted, uplifting and inspiring story of one boy’s survival against the odds.
Abdi’s world fell apart when he was only fifteen and Somalia’s vicious civil war hit Mogadishu. Unable to find his family and effectively an orphan, he fled with some sixty others,heading to Kenya. On the way, death squads hunted them and they daily faced violence, danger and starvation. After almost four months, they arrived in at refugee camps in Kenya – of the group he’d set out with, only five had survived. All alone in the world and desperate to find his family, Abdi couldn’t stay in Kenya, so he turned around and undertook the dangerous journey back to Mogadishu. But the search was fruitless, and eventually Abdi made his way – alone, with no money in his pockets – to Romania, then to Germany, completely dependent on the kindess of strangers. He was just seventeen years old when he arrived in Melbourne. He had no English, no family or friends, no money, no home. Yet, against the odds, he not only survived, he thrived. Abdi went on to complete secondary education and later university. He became a youth worker, was acknowledged with the 2007 Victorian Refugee Recognition Award and was featured in the SBS second series of Go Back to Where You Came From.
Despite what he has gone through, Abdi is a most inspiring man, who is constantly thankful for his life and what he has. Everything he has endured and achieved is testament to his quiet strength and courage, his resilience and most of all, his warm-hearted, shining and enduring optimism.” (

As a white, middle-class citizen of a country that, in the grand scheme of the world, is fairly well off, I’ve had a pretty good life. I’ve never had to fear for my life, I’ve never had to flee my homeland, and I’ve never had to live day to day and hope that I might be able to get sustenance and a place to sleep in peace the next day. For the most part I feel that I’ve been fairly treated by the people I come into contact with. So while I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’ve lived a life of great privilege, I would certainly say that I’ve lived a life with more privilege than others.

The reality is though, that I have taken that life for granted, as so many of us do. It’s sad and shameful that I and those like me need a reminder of how lucky we are. Even worse is the fact that that reminder needs to come in the form of someone else’s life; a life that could have been cut short prematurely were it not for that person’s ingenuity, optimism, and hope that he could have what us lucky ones already have – a life of freedom and opportunity.

Shining: The Story of a Lucky Man by Abdi Aden and Robert Hillman is one of those reminders, and a timely one considering the current refugee crisis in Europe. Shining details the life of Abdi Aden, beginning with his relatively happy childhood in a suburb of Mogadishu, Somalia, and ending with Abdi living the Australian dream in Melbourne. In between these two happy bookends is an at times harrowing account of what life was like in Somalia during the civil war that broke out in the early 1990s.

Abdi tells of his journey through Somalia with the constant threat of being gunned down for no reason other than being there, all the while never knowing whether his mother, father, or sister were alive. On this journey we see the torture experienced by the citizens of Somalia at the hands of the soldiers who should be there to protect them. It is not a position I can ever envisage being in, and some moments in the book are truly heartbreaking:

“I say ‘true despair’, but my readers may not know what I mean by that. I do not mean the despair that you might feel when you experience one unlucky event after another. That is easy to overcome, with a small change of fortune. No, I mean what I see in the eyes of the mothers of Mandera, and in the eyes of the fathers. Their children clutch at them, claw at them. But they stare straight ahead, seeing nothing. And their ears no longer hear the cries and pleading of their children. That is true despair, when you have already died and you are waiting for your burial to catch up with you.”

We see the lengths some refugees are forced to go to in order to escape the country of their birth and how hard it can be for them to find security and safety. Yes many refugees do attempt to gain entry to some countries illegally, but when it comes down to a decision of illegally entering a country to live, or dying tomorrow on the soil of your home country, I know which one I’d choose.

Most importantly, in Abdi we see how life’s opportunities should be taken advantage of and not wasted like so many of us do who simply have them handed to us, rather than us having to work for them. His overwhelming optimism throughout his entire story is something to be admired and as an Australian I am proud that this is the country in which he has made a life because he really is a citizen to be proud of.

While Shining might be Abdi’s personal story, it is also the story of millions of others. According to the UNHCR, the current influx of refugees to Europe is the biggest refugee crisis the world has seen since World War II. Worsening conditions for refugees in Syria and the region has sent 650,000 refugees to Europe so far this year” ( I don’t feel that it’s my place to question the political opinion of others, but being kind to another human being is beyond politics, so I would urge people to help out in whatever small way you can. After all, we would hope for help if we were in that position. And if you want a perspective-altering read, then pick up a copy of Abdi Aden’s book and prepare to feel grateful for what you have.

Many thanks to Harper Collins Australia and NetGalley for providing a review copy in exchange for an honest review!



  1. Pingback: Top Ten Tuesday: My last 10 five-star reads | Bits & Books

  2. His story makes me think of the fiction book I just read about refugees, The Illegal by Lawrence Hill. It would be interesting to read a true account to compare the two. And, I am relieved to hear there is a happy ending.


    • I haven’t heard of that book – I’ll check it out. I don’t think I’ve read any fictional refugee books and I agree it would be interesting to see how ‘real’ the fictional refugee life is. But if Abdi’s story is anything to go by, then it seems like basically anything goes.

      Liked by 1 person

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