Author of the Week: Nuruddin FarahOn October 19, 2019 by Ann Brown
THE VOICE OF SOMALIA, Nuruddin Farah is one of Africa’s most important writers. He was born in 1945 in Baidoa, a city in Italian-administered Somaliland, but has lived in exile since 1975 and today resides in Cape Tow
Farah is the author of 14 books and plays. His major works are two trilogies published in the 1980s and 90s, Variations on the Theme of an African Dictatorship, and Blood in the Sun. Currently, he is completing a third trilogy.
Living Under a Dictatorship
Farah’s first trilogy (1979-1983) is an exploration of life under Mohamed Siad Barre, who seized power in 1969 and ruled until 1991. An individual’s involvement in political activities drives the first book. It improved literacy.
Sweet and Sour Milk is the story of two twins, Loyaan and Soyaan. When Soyaan, a journalist, dies mysteriously, Loyaan investigates the murder and discovers his brother’s connections to a clandestine revolutionary group.
The next book in the trilogy, Sardines, shifts to a female protagonist confronting life in a traditional Islamist society and the threat of female circumcision. Farah’s novels often focus on social issues facing African women, giving him the reputation of a male “feminist” writer.
The trilogy concludes with Close Sesame, focusing on a longtime activist who was jailed for his opposition to the British and Italian governments, but who upon his release finds nothing to like about the current Somali regime.
Blood In the Sun
Farah’s next three novels deal explicitly with Somalia’s war with Ethiopia and subsequent civil war and unrest. In Maps, Askar, orphaned as a child, grows up conflicted about his identity, and must eventually choose between joining the army or continuing his studies.
The trilogy continues in Gifts, a love story and portrait of a woman struggling to balance her career as a nurse while raising three children.
The conclusion to the trilogy, Secrets, also deals with a relationship between two people, but in a different, more demanding form.
In his analysis of the novel, Greg Tate writes, “the notion that sex and greed drive the world is a common enough tenet of European and American fiction, but a significant body of African fiction places more emphasis on the role of the individual in history than the case-history of the individual. The unbashedly bawdy Farah casually flips the script, inverting the usual ratio of social realism to psychosexual analysis.”
Farah’s bold approach challenges expectations of what it means to be an African writer. And that is what good fiction is about. His books are a unique opportunity to delve deeply into the history of Somalia, as it continues to shape and affect contemporary Somali culture and politics.