City of Saints & Thieves
by Natalie C. Anderson

In one of those serendipitous thematic wins, I ended up reading City of Saints & Thieves (about Congo refugee in Kenyan town of Sangui City) at the same time as I read the more contemplative and slow Exit West about refugees from the Middle East.

I think reading about people who have lost their homeland and are forced to consciously figure out who they are in a new country (and look at where they came from) really informed my reading of this book.

It’s an adventure/heist tale starring Tiny Girl, a street-thief in a gang of thugs in Sangui City whose past as the child of a rich family’s maid focuses her on revenge against the white man she thinks killed her mother.

We encounter Tiny Girl as she visits her sister in a convent school and is about to break into her former home to find dirt on the rich man. With her are thugs from the Goondas gang, as well as her friend Boyboy who is flamboyant and a tech genius.

But when things don’t go as planned on the first heist, Tiny Girl must make a deal with her childhood friend Michael to find out the truth behind blood gold, mining scandals, milita killings and what really happened to her mother in the Congo.

The mention of militias and kidnapped women pretty much tell you that your worst assumptions are true. It’s almost slightly unbelievable that Tiny Girl, immersed in the world of refugees and city gangs doesn’t figure out the truth of her mother’s escape from Congo herself, but readers will certainly know.

This book is much more focused on politics, Tiny Girl’s heists, action surrounding kidnappings and dealing with criminals, and everyday travel in Sangui City then it is on emotional landscape or romance, althought there’s a little of that. What elevated this to 5 stars for me was the portrayal of a culture and circumstances unimaginable to mid-western USA citizen me. The rich polyglot of language, the clothing, some of the food: it seemed authentic to me.

Just as a cultural/history lesson for North American folks this is worth reading….but the author does a great job with the heist stuff as well.