The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
Rahel with her pineapple hair and Love-in-Tokyo hairbands is an unforgettable character and Velutha could be so many people in so many places. I have always been interested in Indian fiction but Roy has a punky quality that sets her apart, you get the feeling she would be an outsider wherever she lived.
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
I found Middlesex on the floor of my friend’s room in Geneva as I was beginning to write my first novel. I stayed up all night to read, he had me enthralled. Eugenides is fantastic at structuring and manages to hold this vast story tightly together.
The Yibir of Las Burgabo by Mahmood Gaildon
This is one of those books that changes the way you see the world. I saw through this book another Somalia to the one I knew, a place of isolation, humiliation and constant threat. Very few novels by Somali authors are published in English so each one feels special. It is also particularly interesting for me to see how others describe Somalia and its people.
Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas
A play that reads like a poem, I love its humour, suppleness, musicality. Under Milk Wood feels like a daydream and it gave me an example to aspire to when writing about my own little village in the valleys of Eritrea.
Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin
A lyrical, amusing, gorgeous, ageless book. I rarely read love stories but this one told by a cynical aristocrat has a real sharp edge to it.
Going to Meet the Man by James Baldwin
In this short story Baldwin does a rare thing – he writes completely convincingly from the perspective of a man he is diametrically opposed to. I felt I had a glimpse into the soul of a man who commits unforgivable acts. Maybe this story sowed the seed for Filsan, the female soldier in The Orchard of Lost Souls.
What is the What by Dave Eggers
A similar story to my father’s which made me weep but also smile. Eggers successfully disappears into the background and tells the story of a Sudanese ‘Lost Boy’, Valentino Achak Deng, who loses his family in the civil war and ends up in America.
The Aeneid by Virgil
Rich, boundless language so similar to that used in Somali poetry, book one and three are particularly gorgeous. Dido’s fate always reminds me of those Motown songs in which a great woman is destroyed by a no-good man.
By the Sea by Abdulrazak Gurnah
From Zanzibar to the English coast, I love books about journeys and this one is particularly beautiful. It follows the life of an asylum seeker marooned on these shores and articulates the humour and tragedy of his situation.
Marabou Stork Nightmares by Irvine Welsh
A book with soul. I think the structure is incredible and Welsh’s writing is always idiosyncratic, funny, wise and brutal. I can see many of the young men I went to school with in his characters and he sings their blues in a unique way.
The Orchard of Lost Souls by Nadifa Mohamed is published by Simon & Schuster. Nadifa is one of Granta's Best of Young British Novelists list for 2013.