Nuruddin Farah started to write in English while attending university in India. Previously he released the short story in his native language. He has published a series of prize winning novels describing the sufferings of the people of Somalia. In persuasive words he writes of the dehumanizing effects of foreign-aid-enforced dependency. He wrote short stories and plays apart from novels. He received few awards like the Neustadt International Prize for literature in 1998, the Lettre Ulysses Award in Berlin, the Kurt Tuchlosky Price in Sweden in 1991, Premio Cavour, Italy in 1994 and the perennial nominee for the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Nuruddin Farah’s books are rich in colourful language and metaphors. He often incorporates Somali parables and proverbs to make his point. Most of his works are concerned with the universal issue of individual freedom. The aspects of Somali society – Islam, clan and kinship, family structure, gender regime, nation-state, and dictatorship-that impinge upon the individual freedom of Farah’s characters and are therefore central to what he and his characters attempt to resist, reimagine, and transform. It also discusses Somali language and oral poetry as a background for Farah’s own awareness and use of the power of language to transform. There is an argument that Farah’s work presents a single and closely integrated fictional world, whose unifying dimensions of setting, plot, character, and ideology they carefully outline.
This should silence the few narrow-minded Somalists who used to say that Farah, because of his exile, was somehow no longer Somali enough to draw real-life Somali characters. His central concern with individual autonomy makes every aspect of identity and every social relationship (that between individuals, as well as that between each individual and the class, gender, family, clan, nation to which she or he belongs) deeply political. At the core of his work, the authors contend, lies the struggle of his characters to analyse, reimagine, transform, and control their own identities. His characters occupy very different positions within the patriarchal power structures. Thus the reader is introduced to the reflections of male chauvinist as well as feminist men. The later often take on unconventional gender roles and sometimes project them- selves into the bodies or voices of women.
The themes that which dominate the narratives are narratives: the claims of national, clan and personal identities; the place of women in an African society; the dictatorships and the struggle for human rights and freedom. Nuruddin Farah’s narratives – From a Crooked Rib, A Naked Needle, Maps, and the trilogy comprising Sweet and Sour Milk, Sardines, and Close Sesame – have come to be a metaphor for postcolonial Africa. There are three themes which dominate the narratives: the claims of national clan and personal identities; the place of women in an African society; the dictatorships and the struggle for human rights and freedom. What is so remarkable about his narratives is the way they move effortlessly through four realms of being: the domestic, the clan, the national, and the international. What is important is the fact that all the realms are interconnected. They are linked. Thus, for instance, in Sweet and Sour Milk the domestic patriarchy is a mirror image of the national dictatorship; that is the domestic patriarch who insists on women and children knowing their place is re-enacted in the grand patriarch of the nation as a whole who insists on un- questioning obedience from everyone.
The father who assumes that he has a God-given right to do anything he wants with his wives and children reflects the father of the nation, who also acts as if he is God’s representative on earth. The oppression of women in the domestic realm is linked to that of dictatorship in the national realm. The question of who narrates the woman’s fate is thus linked to the question of who narrates the nation. The liberation of woman is not something which is separable from the general issues of national liberation and human rights. For Nuruddin Farah, it is at the core of all those issues, and he is probably the leading writer in Africa in feminist consciousness. This is not a consciousness which he has acquired in the course of his writing; it is at the core of his writing from his very first work, From a Crooked Rib.
Farah’s narratives have captured this period of the cold war in African politics, and in this he is entirely unique. Thus what he has to say, although its location is Somalia, has echoes in the entire post-World War II global community. Rooted in the rhythms of life of the Somali people, his work nevertheless speaks for a continent and the postcolonial world as a whole. Nuruddin Farah questions all the oppressive actions against women whether rooted in the family, the clan, the nation, or in religion and political systems. He is a Somali writer, an African writer, an important voice in postcolonial modernism, and speaks to our age in a very compelling prose.
Farah’s first novel, From a Crooked Rib, was published in 1970. The novel is concerned with the harsh treatment of women in Somali society. The book is told through the eyes of an young nomadic girl. His strong feminist stance makes his writing unique among the African male writers. Siyad Barre. The novel presents political than a sociological study of the subordinate role of Somali women and the effects of urbanization during the 1950s, indicative of Farah’s commitment to social issues.
The central character of the novel is Ebla, a woman pastoralist from the Ogaden who desires emancipation from her subordinate role in Somali society. Ebla first runs away from her clan to the city of Belet Wene because she refuses to accept her arranged marriage with an old man named Giumaleh. Once established at the house of her cousin Gheddi, however, Ebla learns that, to pay off some debts, he had secretly offered her hand in marriage to a “broker” friend. Ebla thus flees a second time by eloping to Mogadishu with a civil servant named Awill, only to become infuriated when she learns that, on a government-sponsored trip in Italy, he cheated on her. Ebla reasserts herself and gains revenge by secretly marrying Tiffo, a wealthy man of the city with whom she trades sexual favours for money. Ebla has learned to manipulate men through a brand of prostitution in which she realizes that her body is a treasure. The subordinate nature of women in Somali society is clearly the dominant image of the book. Farah is particularly opposed to the continuing traditional Somali practice of circumcision and infibulation of young girls.
Farah’s second novel, A Naked Needle (1976), was written in Mogadishu in 1972, enabling him to have digested the preliminary successes, failures, and effects of the 1969 military revolution. The book represents the second phase in Farah’s evolution: He remains socially engaged, and portrays an increased political awareness, typified by a general questioning of the revolution’s “successes.” Farah’s description of continued political corruption and tribalistic practices at the highest levels of government, despite official statements to the contrary, puts him in conflict with the ruling regime (this book and all subsequent novels have been banned in Somalia). Whereas From a Crooked Rib stresses Ebla’s individualist struggle against traditionalism within Somalia, A Naked Needle emphasizes “national identity and national unity” within an “expansive and internationally oriented world.”