Fairytales for Lost Children

FAIRYTALES FOR LOST CHILDREN is narrated by people constantly on the verge of self-revelation. These characters – young, gay and lesbian Somalis – must navigate the complexities of family, identity and the immigrant experience as they tumble towards freedom. Set in Kenya, Somalia and South London, these stories are imbued with pathos, passion and linguistic playfulness, marking the arrival of a singular new voice in contemporary fiction.

Diriye Osman (b.1983) is a British-Somali short story writer, essayist, critic and visual artist. His writing has appeared in The Guardian, Time Out, The Huffington Post, Attitude, Prospect, the Poetry Review, Kwani?, Jungle Jim, Under The Influence and SCARF Magazine. His critically-acclaimed debut Fairytales For Lost Children won the 2014 Polari First Book Prize, and is a Guardian Book of the Year.



'In this taut, feral, sinewy, fearless book, Diriye Osman makes nothing less than a new map of our world, where a new generation make, in the present, the homes of love for the future of us all. These are times of turbulence and confusion, and Africa is making new kinds of people for the world. They live in this collection of short stories.'


'Fantastic writing. I am most highly impressed. I've read some of the stories more than once and saw in each one of them plenty of talent everywhere - in every sinew and vein.'


‘There is nothing more humbling than good writing except when the author is fiercely beautiful and ferociously generous of heart. That Diriye Osman should possess so much talent is only fair in light of his goodness. Read this book.’


‘The characters in these fairy tales are displaced in multiple, complicated ways. But Osman's storytelling creates a shelter for them; a warm place which is both real and imaginary, in which they find political, sexual, and ultimately psychic liberation.’


‘East Africa. South London. Queer. Displaced. Mentally Ill. My excitement over Osman and his writing comes, in part, out of delight at the impossibility of categorisation.’

- ELLAH ALLFREY, The Telegraph

‘At a time when homosexuality is still illegal in most of Africa, and barely features in contemporary African fiction, this book is a welcome surprise. In sensual, erotic, explicit stories, Osman writes about young gay Somalis whose identities are shaped as much by their sexualities as their cultural origins… Osman is a courageous writer but he is also an original one. His language is peppered with Somali words and crafted with all the concision and riches of poetry. At a time when African writing is on the rise, Osman stands above the crowd.’


‘One of the great joys of reading is finding books that detail experiences not often seen in mainstream literature. ‘Fairytales for Lost Children’ by Diriye Osman is a raw collection of short stories about the queer Somali experience. These are often stories about exile from family, from country, from sanity, from self. Osman works well within the fairytale tradition. He uses patois and slang and rhythmic cadence to tell these stories in the only language they can be told…the power of these stories is undeniable.’

- ROXANE GAY, The Nation

‘A series of poetic vignettes that utilize personal history, national trauma, vernacular, and linguistic sound patterning as texture, this book weaves together personal narratives of queer refugees—from the mother of the lesbian Somali daughter who casts her dreams into the ocean on paper and bits of rock, to the trans woman nurse in the psych ward who manipulates the medical industrial system for her own safety, to the desperate drag queen femme boy who slides on those first silk stockings, this book follows them all… ‘Fairytales for Lost Children’ is a must-read for anyone, displaced or not, who has suffered the blessing and curse of coming out as queer in a world not ready to receive it. Texturally beautiful and tonally gorgeous, Osman has created a dark world of language and culture that every lost child can find themselves in.’

- JULY WESTHALE, Lambda Literary

‘Osman’s triumphant first book is a testament to just what can happen when a queer person gets up, gets out and gets something. Though his characters face plenty of painful challenges—homophobia, anti-refugee prejudice, mental illness—Osman’s stories are suffused with the possibility of joy and pleasure, whether in the form of sexual awakening, gender exploration or in learning how to stand up for yourself. Ultimately, his fairytales are affirmations of why life is worth living, even for the lost. The book’s final story, about a gay Somali-Jamaican couple living in London, concludes: “We own our bodies. We own our lives.”’


'Narrated by young gay and lesbian Somalis, Diriye Osman's Fairytales For Lost Children is a rich, complex and lyrical set of tales that span the complexities of family, identity and the immigrant experience. Set in Kenya, Somalia and South London, this collection of stories is sure to move and enthral in equal measure. One to watch out for.’

- WILL DAVIS, Attitude

‘Set in Somalia, Kenya and London, these stories are concerned with identity, self-realization, displacement and the bonds of family. Osman’s vivid and intimate style brings to life narratives rooted in his own experiences as a gay Somali.’


'Each of Osman’s characters has been written into emancipation, whether it be erupting, a gentle acceptance, or falling quietly — like snow in fog. This book is also a record of the physical, mental and emotional effects of conservative power, pressure and prejudice on his richly resistant and defiant characters. In totality we are presented with an exhibition of loss: innocence, fear, family, shame, virginity, love and belonging. But what is lost leaves the space for something more precious, sacred and transformative. Something necessary. The freedom to explore your own ways of being with ownership — that as the last line of the collection states — “We own our bodies. We own our lives.”'

- JONATHAN DUNCAN, Africa Is A Country


Read the brilliant review of Fairytales in the Independent newspaper (14/10/13) in full - where it was chosen as Monday's book of the week - and the full text of another insightful and enthusiastic review on the legendary blogspot, Africa is a Country.

Read interviews with Diriye in Next magazine, Another AfricaBeige, the Royal African Society, with blogger Hope Whitmore, at now-now, a pan-African gazette; an in-depth interview with the great Somali-American novelist and critic, Sofia Samatar, here;  and an interesting piece profiling him along with other rising stars of African literature in the New Internationalist. Bernardine Evaristo names him as a significant new voice in this  BBC radio interview about the state of African literature.  Diriye writes about his journey to - literally -  finding his voice as a writer in Prospect magazine here; and about the rise of homophobia in Russia and Africa for Time Out magazine here. Read his essay, 'To be young, gay and African' in the Huffington Post here, and Afropunk here.

Read a powerful critical appraisal of Diriye's writing by the British Council here.

See Diriye perform at the Last Word  here.

For other interviews, pearls of wisdom, beautiful art and striking photography, check out Diriye's website  here.


cover design by Liquorice Fish, photo by Boris Mitkov