Customer Reviews of Maps
Everything you wanted to know about growing-up...
This is one of the major contemporary African novels to date. Its author, the Somalian English-speaking writer Nuruddin Farah, has been in exile since 1975, because he opposed Siyad Barre's military regime. Since Barre's eviction from power and death, Farah has chosen to stay abroad. The novel was published in 1986 and comes first in a trilogy that also includes GIFTS (1992) and SECRETS (1998). It is the story of a young orphan, named Askar ("soldier" or "arm-bearer" in Somali), who, as he thinks, killed his mother at his birth. During his infancy and early childhood, he shares everything (except his dreams) with his foster-mother, a woman of Oromo origin named Misra. In Kallafo, where he stays until the age of seven, he is happy and at one with Misra. Then, because of the different political problems that threaten Ogaden (the Ethiopian area mostly inhabited by Somali speakers and claimed by Somalia as its own), he is sent to the Somalian capital, Mogadiscio, where he lives with his maternal uncle, Hilaal, and his uncle's wife, Salaado. There, he tends to become a fierce patriot, though his moods are moderated by the presence of his uncle and his aunt, two loving but demanding intellectuals. At the age of 17, Askar sees Misra again. This is during the 1977 war in the Ogaden, and Askar has been misled into thinking that Misra betrayed Somali patriots. The whole story is told by three different voices, each of which the third case, the tale is more "objective", with Askar being referred to as a classical novel character ("he"). On the whole, Askar's dilemmas and split personality make up a deeply felt and immensely rewarding work of fiction. As the end shows, there is always fiction in life, but perhaps not the way you would expect it
Personal or political. That is the question. Nuruddin Farah says that everything is political. What does the term political mean? I think it implies the dynamics between the ruler and the ruled. What we see as political writing today has essentially to do with the state. But even within the smaller segments of the state and the society, even within human consciousness, there is the ruler-ruled dichotomy. So everything is political. But the response to that is individual, characteristic of the human being, and hence personal. The political manifestation in the personal life of Askar is what the book is about. While it does this, it also maps the contours of the psyche of Askar in the most lucid and poetic manner possible. Farah is a Somali shaman who weaves the tale of Askar in the oral tradition of Africa.
I don't know a lot about African literature, and what I had read about Nurrudin Farah was a little intimidating, but this book was recommended to me by a friend who read it when it was first published in ENgland, and since then I've read the whole Blood in theSun trilogy (Gifts and Secrets follow). The books have taught me a lot about Africa and Somalia especially. But this book is, quite simply, a great novel, regardless of what continent it comes from. Farah writes like no other author I have ever encountered: he really makes the language come alive in a very special way. I'm convinced he's one of the most brilliant writers alive today.