30 November 2008

Nuruddin Farah, From a Crooked Rib, 1970

Post-colonial Africa saw many political commentators and writers urging a return to traditional African values that were suppressed by European colonialism, but the Somalian emigré Farah was not one of them: instead in his debut novel he set out to expose the mysoginy and hypocrisy of the Somalian cultural attitudes towards women: they are nothing more than property, and do we really want a return to this? Beneath the simplicity of the story this is a spare and angry book, convincingly told from the viewpoint of a young and powerless Somali nomad, married off to an old man and desperate to escape her life of poverty, oppression and servitude in a patriarchal culture. The book says plenty about the everyday frustrations of Somali women but Farah doesn’t always put his points across with crystal clarity: too many passages seem unnecessarily lengthened and he exhibits a tendency towards repetition. Even so, this is quietly memorable despite its occasional weaknesses.  PY


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