Talking with Marty Ganzglass
Marty Ganzglass’s (Somalia 1966-68) first novel, The Orange Tree, is the fifth book published by our imprint, Peace Corps Writers. It is a story of the unlikely friendship between an elderly Jewish lady and a young Somali nurse who cares for her.
Recently Marty and I exchanged questions and answers about his writing and his long association with Somalia.
Marty, where did you serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer?
I went to Somalia, along with my wife Evelyn, from 1966 to 1968. I was a lawyer and worked as legal advisor to the Somali National Police Force, replacing a Ford Foundation lawyer, who coincidentally, went on to become Police Commissioner of New York City (Robert J. McGuire). My assignment was quite unusual for a PCV.
You have been connected with Somali for years, in what role?
My post Peace Corps service connections with Somalia run deep. When we moved to Washington, D.C. in 1972, I became legal counsel to the Somali Embassy and later worked with the Ministry of Mineral and Water Resources, negotiating oil concession agreements on behalf of the Government with major petroleum companies. I also did some contract negotiations for Somali Airlines. I went back to Somalia a few times in the 1980s on legal matters. Those are the official ties.
From 1979 until around 1986, the son of a very good Somali friend of ours (a Police Officer imprisoned by Siad Barre and held without charges or trial for more than seven years) lived with us, as did the eldest daughter of another friend, also a Police Officer.
In 1993, I was sent to Somalia by the Department of State, during Operation Restore Hope, to advise U.S. Ambassador Robert Gosende and Admiral Howe, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative to Somalia, on ways to restore the Somali judiciary and National Police. I have submitted affidavits on behalf of many Somalis seeking political asylum in the U.S., was an expert witness for the Somali plaintiffs in the United States, suing former Vice President, Minister of Defense and General of the Army, Mohamed Ali Samantar for ordering extra-judicial killings, imprisonment and torture of civilians in what is now Somaliland and am currently a Board Member of the Somali American Community Association.
Evelyn and I helped our closest Somali friends to escape the chaos and wanton slaughter in 1991 and come to the U.S. They now live in Seattle and we visit frequently and consider each other part of one family.
Why this novel?
Why this novel? The idea for this novel came to me about 20 years ago, when one of our elderly relatives was in a nursing home. When we had to place my own aunt in a nursing home, I started writing, but quickly discovered I could not practice law and write in a concise legal style during the day, and convert to fiction at night. More power to John Grisham and others. The idea lay dormant, although I presciently kept notes of dialogue and events at nursing homes over the years as another relative became a resident. After I retired at the end of December 2008, I began writing and completed The Orange Tree in eleven months. Much of the plot development and dialogue occurred to me while I was walking our one-year-old golden retriever, B J. I credit him as my co-author.
What Peace Corps writers have you read?
I confess the only Peace Corps writers I have read are the authors of the essays in Going Up Country. However, I have also read a book by Patrick T. Murphy, a Peace Corps Volunteer who also served in Somalia as a lawyer when I was there, and who went on to become Cook County Public Guardian. His non-fiction book is entitled Our Kindly Parent . . . The State: The Juvenile Justice System and How It Works.
Do you know the collection of creative non-fiction stories about the Peace Corps in Somalia, The Last Camel: True Stories about Somalia by Jeanne Martha D’Haem (Somalia 1968–70) published in 1997 or Horses Like the Wind and Other Stories of Africa by Baker H. Morrow (Somalia 1968–69)?
I have read The Last Camel. I am unaware of Baker Morrow’s book.
Where else have you published — fiction or non-fiction?
I have written and published: The Penal Code of the Somali Democratic Republic: Cases, Commentary and Examples, Rutgers University Press, 1971; Constitutions of the World-Somalia, Blaustein & Flanz, Editors, Oceana Publications, 1971, 1979, 1981; Learning From Somalia: The Lessons of Armed Humanitarian Intervention: The Restoration of the Somali Justice System, Clarke & Herbst, Editors, Westview Press, 1997. In addition, I have written two articles on the Samantar case for the Journal of the Anglo-Somali Society.
The Peace Corps at 50: The 48 Hour Rule is to be published in 2011 as part of the 50th Anniversary celebration.
And your plans for future writing?
Currently, I am working on short stories about Somalia, tentatively entitled Seven Somali Shorts.
In addition I have completed a first draft of an historical novel, set in the first year of the American Revolutionary War, entitled Cannons for the Cause. It is built around the “noble train of artillery” brought down from Fort Ticonderoga, through the Berkshires and on to Cambridge by Colonel Henry Knox in the brutal winter of 1775–1776.
Since my protagonist in Cannons for the Cause is 16 years old at the end of the novel, and has enlisted in Knox’s artillery regiment, there will be several more historical novels in the series. I have begun work on the next one about the Battle for New York and the retreat through the Jerseys. B J continues to give me valuable counsel in plot and character development.
Knowing Somalia as well as you do, what is the future of the nation?
Somalia will not rebuild as a nation until the Somalis in the different regions themselves decide what kind of national government they want. In the meantime, the U.S. should, without recognizing the governments of Somaliland and Puntland, provide economic assistance on a regional and local tribal basis, as we are currently doing in Afghanistan and have previously done in Iraq, to improve infrastructure in health, education and transportation and assist Somalis in enhancing their own security.
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Marty: As a former Hargeisa resident I particularly enjoyed your last comments about the future. I agree that without the unity of agreement that existed back in the 1960’s when Somalia showed the world it could successfully govern its clans; the country will remain a difficult problem for itself, the Horn, and perhaps the world. I do like the three prominent names now however, Somaliland, Puntland and Somalia. Thanks. Bill
Bill: Thanks for your comments. I hope you enjoy the book.
I can’t understand US policy toward Somalia. We are working around the central Governments of Afghanistan and Iraq and dealing with tribal leader and local groups. If we did the same in Somalia, we could concentrate on the relatively peaceful (and democratic) areas and materially help improve the condition of Somali civilians. Instead, we are fixated on the hopelessly inept and corrupt Transitional Federal Government which holds little sway beyond part of Mog. The way to successfully combat Al Shabaab is to gain the trust and confidence of the Somali people (as distinguished from the TFG) by helping them. Marty