Monday, September 17, 2012
Nuruddin Farah is a man fascinated with his home country Somalia.
In his first novel, From a Crooked Rib, he portrays a Somali woman struggling with the restraints of the traditional Somali society. Forty one years later, the Baidoa-born writer and winner of the prestigious Neustadt International Prize for Literature, has bounced back with a tale of Somalia under the Union of Islamic Courts and country's subsequent civil war titled Crossbones.
The novel, his eleventh and the final instalment of his Past Imperfect trilogy, depicts the reality in the horn of Africa through the eyes of three characters of Somali descent.
One of the characters Jeebleh travels to Mogadishu from Yemen to meet his old friends, twelve years after a previous visit. Here, he is confronted with the real Somalia, not the stereotypical screen images that has fed his imagination over years.
His son-in-law, Malik, a freelance journalist based in New York city, also accompanies him determined to tell the story of the on-going crisis in his ancestral land.
In a different instance, Malik’s older brother Ahlulkhair also travels to the other side of Somalia, Puntland, in search of his stepson Taxliil who disappeared from Minnesota and is suspected to have been recruited as a volunteer for the Al-Shabaab militia group. In a way, Taxliil symbolises the growing list of American-Somali youths joining the radical group.
Through the the three men's journey to Somalia, the writer is presented with a clear picture of Somalia. To add to the drama is the action of Ethiopia's invasion of Mogadishu that coincides with the visit, offering the reader a first hand account of the crisis and the characters.
The author clearly paints the ugly side of the war; the business and politics of the war, especially bringing out the profiteers of the war.
But there is nothing radically new, at least according to the famed author in Crossbones
“The present situation is nothing but dictatorship by another name. Somalis, long familiar with dictatorships of socialist vintage, are now getting accustomed to a brand of religionist authoritarianism,” Farah writes.
The other issues that the author aptly captures in tis page turner are effects of piracy, technology; the different shades of religious intolerance and the Somali resilience.
With all the in-fighting, clan-based rivalry and the corruption amongst top cadres, the Islamic courts still manage to make peace. They claim to have a country to liberate and a people to educate in the proper ways of their faith. This powers their successful resistance to Ethiopian invasion.
The novel also critiques Somalia’s neighbours and the role played by the US in the region.
Seen another way, Crossbones is a novel of despair and dismay. It also demonstrates Farah’s commitment to Somalia course.
His passion on the issues raised is clear. At points, the book reads like one whole lecture on piracy, with endless dialogue in the subject. This is especially so in the conversations between Fidno and Ahlulkhair where the story drags on and on.
Even then, you can tell a great writer by the way they paint vivid pictures, and this achieves that.
But just like Hirsh Sawhney concludes in his piece in the New York Times, Farah's Crossbones can feel didactic, but also provocative. It also gets a little verbose; repetitive. But that doers not take away its place in the Somalia public discourse.