Monday, October 17, 2011

Book 78, Somalia: "Maps" by Nuruddin Farah

Good lord. Finally finished this book. And I’m sad to say that after all that trouble it took to get a hold of a copy, Maps has turned out to be one of those terribly acclaimed works of literature that I don’t like very much.

Even though it’s not obviously long like A House For Mr Biswas and Pynter Bender, it drags. The narrative’s more theme-based than plot-based: we spiral around moments and symbols in the orphan Askar's life: blood, lots of it; eventually maps as well; impenetrable dreams; women's bodies; amputations, etc.

And it's true what they say about Somalis being unstereotypical of the African continent, because Farah is ruthlessly intellectual: Askar's a prodigy to begin with, and then he's matched up with Mogadishu elites like his Uncle Hilaal and his Aunt Salaado who debate the historicity of ethnicity and civilisation and barbarianism until after a while you don't care how beautiful the prose is, you just wanna finish and go home to sleep.

Yeah, I'm tired. How'd you guess?

I suppose there's plenty worth learning in here: how Farah dares to jump around from first person to second person to third person in his narrative; how a story centred on a young man can actually end up being centred more on his nursemaid Misra, the utterly oppressed Ethiopian servant who gave him her everything and is still sacrificed to the mobs in the aftermath of the war; how one can be unapologetically brainy, invoking Freud and Plath and Kierkegaard even in the midst of inter-clan murder happening in the third world villages right next door.

But mostly, I'm amazed that the public laps this stuff up. How do they put up with it? Gawd.

View Around the World in 80 Books!!! in a larger map

Representative quote: I hid my inner torment behind the silence I stood in - my hands behind my back, my body upright, my mind alert, my thoughts stirring within me echoes of conversations I had with Misra years agto, with Cusmaan who was my tutor some nine or so years ago, with Salaado - and with myself. Somehow, I felt I had to betray one of them. I had to betray either Misra, who had been like a mother to me, or my mother country. However, part of me was worried - worried that a curse would be placed on my head by either. And I couldn't help remembering dreams in which I saw an old man with a girl's face and features, or another in which the dreamer, a young man who imagined he had envied a woman's menstruation, menstruated.

Next book: Maaza Mengiste's Beneath the Lion's Gaze, from Ethiopia.

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