In honour of #WorldBookDay, an international day dedicated to highlighting the power of books to illuminate the human experience and “to inspire behavior based on understanding, tolerance, and dialogue”, Biladd.com takes you on a literary tour of Somalia:
Crossbones by Nuruddin Farah
Set in Somalia around the 2006 US-backed Ethiopian invasion, the final volume in Farah’s Past Imperfect trilogy can be read as a standalone novel. This absorbing story puts a human face to the tragedy of a failed state.
Three members of a Somali-American family return to find their homeland imploding under an Islamist regime in control of the capital, Mogadishu, as war nears and piracy proliferates off the coast of breakaway Puntland. Foreign correspondent Malik has come to write about political conflict and piracy; his father-in-law, Jeebleh, is re-establishing contact with old friends who he hopes will protect Malik and ease his path; and Malik’s elder brother, Ahl, is searching for a stepson thought to have joined the Islamist militia on advice from an imam in his Minnesota hometown.
Farah skilfully evokes the paranoia and desperation that stalks the fragmented country, where trust is in short supply and good people find themselves unable to steer it away from self-destruction.
This is an impassioned insider’s portrayal of present-day Somalia, and of lives blighted by relentless violence and civil war.
Somalia’s most famous novelist went into exile in the 1970s, during the rule of the dictator Siad Barre. He now lives in the US and South Africa, but has vowed “to keep my country alive by writing about it”.
The Orchard of Lost Souls by Nadifa Mohamed
On the eve of the civil war in the late 1980s, two women and a girl in Hargeisa, north-western Somalia, find themselves caught up in the turbulence as their lives intersect.
In this story of conflict and survival, events unfold through the eyes of Deqo, a nine-year-old orphan born and raised in a refugee camp, who ran away and is now cared for by prostitutes; Kawsar, an elderly, grieving widow bedridden after being beaten at a police station; and Filsan, a zealous young soldier from Mogadishu, here to help suppress the growing rebellion against the dictatorship. All three are wrestling with memories of lost loved ones.
In a chapter on each revealing their past, Mohamed sensitively builds her cast of strong, self-empowered female characters.
As the revolt grows and the army moves “not just to black out the city but to silence it”, the civil war’s first “orgy of violence [is] enacted”. But amid the harrowing events taking place, the author inserts a ray of hope.
Mohamed succeeds in achieving her stated goal of “[elucidating] Somali history for a wider audience”. The author, born in Hargeisa (now in Somaliland), came to Britain with her family aged five – a temporary move made permanent by the civil war.
The World’s Most Dangerous Place by James Fergusson
Under the attention-seeking title is a perceptive and engaging account of Somalia’s descent into violence and lawlessness. The country has not had a properly functioning central government since the overthrow of the dictator Siad Barre in 1991. Meanwhile, it has seen seemingly endless clan warfare, a brutal Islamist insurgency, foreign military interventions, famine, pervasive corruption, piracy and – unsurprisingly – the flight of about 2 million people abroad.
The civil war is known locally as “the destruction”, and one source tells the author that wherever the four horsemen of the apocalypse ride out to in the world, they return nightly to stable in Somalia.
Fergusson travels within Somalia and beyond, also visiting the peaceful but unrecognised Republic of Somaliland; the breakaway region of Puntland, home to a lucrative piracy industry; and Somali diaspora in the US and UK.
He explores the backstory essential to understanding how the country gained its unenviable reputation as “the world’s most failed state”, and why peace and security in Somalia matter far beyond its borders.
Fergusson detects reasons for optimism, with the al-Qaida-affiliated al-Shabaab Islamists in retreat, piracy reduced, bustling markets, Somalis returning from abroad, and politics and law and order slowly re-emerging.
Black Mamba Boy by Nadifa Mohamed
Black Mamba Boy is an African historical fiction written by Nadifa Mohamed. This cultural fiction novel is first published by HarperCollins Publishers in 2010.
Maps by Nuruddin Farah
Adopted as an orphaned infant, Askar grows weary of his village life and moves to the capital to live with his Aunt and Uncle and becomes involved in the political upheaval in Mogadishu, Somalia. But as the life of his adopted parent is threatened, Askar must confront harsh realities.
Nuruddin Farah was born in Baidoa, in then Somaliland. In 1963 his family was forced to flee as a result of border conflicts. He would go on to write several books and in the mid-1970s, after finding out that the Somali government planned to imprison him over the contents of his last book, he would not return to Somalia for 22 years. He was a nominee for the Nobel Prize in Literature.
This is a book about, clearly, the mayor of Mogadishu. I actually met this man at a conference several years ago, while I was working as a translator and sat at his table. I can only imagine what his life looks like in these devastating days after the awful bomb a few weeks ago.
From the Amazon page:
“The Mayor of Mogadishu is a rare an insider’s account of Somalia’s unraveling, and an intimate portrayal of one family’s extraordinary journey.”
A Man of Good Hope by Jonny Steinberg
This is the story of a Somali man who fled the civil war as a child and ended up in South Africa. From the book’s Amazon page:
“Throughout, A Man of Good Hope is a complex, affecting, ultimately hopeful portrait of Asad’s search for salvation, suffused with dreams and desires and a need to leave something permanent on this earth.”
From Somalia to Snow: How Central Minnesota Became Home to Somalis by Hudda Ibrahim
Speaking of Somalis in Minnesota, how did they come to settle here? I remember going out with young Somali girls when we lived in Minneapolis and my friends wore high heels and thin dresses even in the middle of January, while I stomped around in boots and fluffy winter coats.
I have not had the chance to read this book yet, but am glad to see Somali women producing their own works about their experiences and community in the US.
Source: The Guardian, Djibouti Jones, New York Public Library