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Knotsby Nuruddin Farah
Synopses & Reviews
A new novel from one of the world's great writers-an extraordinary work set in Mogadiscio, Somalia-that both breaks new ground and brings him back to his literary roots.
A strong, self-reliant woman who was born in Somalia but brought up in North America, Cambara returns to Mogadiscio to escape a failed marriage and an overweening mother. Her journey back to her native home is a desperate attempt to find herself on her own terms-however ironically, in a country where women are expected to wear veils. And she has given herself a mission to reclaim her family's home from the warlord who has taken it as his own.
Cambara finds emotional refuge and practical support with a group of Somali women activists working to broker peace in a country that has been savagely riven by its drug-addled, power-hungry men. Farah's novels have been famous for their unique African feminism since his debut, From a Crooked Rib (just reissued by Penguin); Knots represents his most powerful return to that legacy.
Knots also presents a penetrating portrayal of Somalia's capital city-a city that's changed from the city Westerners saw on CNN and in 'Black Hawk Down,' transformed into a state of violent anarchy and psychological disrepair that has never been more important to understand. An especially intimate portrait of Mogadiscio, it's informed by Farah's own recent efforts to reclaim his family's property there, as well as his experiences trying to negotiate peace among the city's warlords.
Now more than ever, Farah's deeply wise and worldly inside look at the Muslim world is valuable and necessary.
"Somalia-born Farah's ninth novel (after Links, first in a trilogy of which this is the second book) tells the spellbinding story of Cambara, a Somalian migr to Canada. Cambara is mourning her only son's drowning death — in the Toronto pool of her abusive lawyer husband's mistress. In the aftermath, Cambara resolves to leave her husband, journey to Somalia and wrest control of her parents' property from warlord squatters. Her journey is mesmerizing.Cambara's first stop in Mogadiscio (aka Mogadishu, where the novel opens) is the filthy home of her foul-smelling cousin Zaak, a narcotic-chewing churl to whom she was briefly married. Zaak brings her up-to-date on the devastation to Somali society wrought by civil war and warlord rule: murderous AK-47 — wielding youths; collapsed, empty theaters whose props have been burned for firewood (Cambara has worked as an actress and a makeup artist); constant mortal danger, despair and boredom. Cambara soon decamps for the relative luxury of an upscale hotel managed by Kiin, an unflappable woman who links Cambara to the Woman for Peace network, an organization of strong-willed activists that facilitates her daring production of a 'play for peace.' Kiin's web of connections also includes battle-hardened bodyguard Dajaal, who mobilizes others to drive the warlord's troops out of Cambara's family residence, which she then reoccupies to rehearse her play. Farah's depiction of the riotous urban madness that is Mogadiscio, where youth militias roam the ravaged streets of a once-cosmopolitan city, is both relentless and remorseful. But there is hope, too, in how Farah writes about the everyday heroics of people attempting to lead normal lives in the midst of savagely abnormal times. Farah describes these events in a lilting, poetic prose that is hypnotic in its ability to trace both the contradictions and hesitations of his protagonist and the complexities of Somali life. Despite its heavy subject, joy suffuses the novel. There have been Nobel rumblings about Farah for some time: certainly his ability to create a heroine whose power and depth of personality almost overwhelms the book written to contain her recalls the Australian laureate Patrick White. Few readers who let Cambara into their lives will easily forget her." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"I was 11 when Somalia became a place that people beyond its borders cared about, or in many cases even heard about. I was 24 when I read Nuruddin Farah for the first time. In between, I am loath to admit I completely bought into the idea of Somalia as the model failed state. Who wouldn't when every newscast mentioning it has the words 'suffering,' 'warlord' and 'al-Qaeda' attached? Somalia may indeed... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) be a dysfunctional state, but that hardly makes it hopeless, as the news media would have us believe. Rather, as Farah's latest novel, 'Knots,' suggests, there is hope for Somalia and its people. 'Knots' is Farah's 10th novel and the sequel to 'Links' (2004). The two books share characters and themes and should be read together for full effect. Whereas 'Links' focused on a man who returned to Mogadishu to honor the spirit of his dead mother, 'Knots' tells the story of Cambara, a middle-aged Somali woman who has spent much of her adult life in Canada. She returns to Somalia's scarred capital to reclaim her family house from a squatting warlord. Cambara's scheming but endearing mother calls her effort 'a hare-brained ruse ... downright suicidal,' but Cambara wants to put distance between herself and her unfaithful husband, whose carelessness during one of his liaisons led to the drowning death of their son. Cambara, Farah writes, has come to Mogadishu 'in the hope of chancing upon a noble way of mourning her loss, not in anger but while recovering the family property to devote herself to the service of peace.' As we follow her through the city, we encounter loss on a grand scale. Men and women walk streets lined by 'buildings leaning in in complete disorder, a great many of them boasting no roof. ... The road — once tarred and good enough for motor vehicles — is in total disrepair.' The Somalia to which Cambara returns is a society where 'men prefer starting wars to talking things over,' where unproductive self-pity and hopeless mourning are the order of the day. Zaak, Cambara's overweight, unhygienic, qaat-chewing and cowardly cousin, is perhaps the best example of how not to live with the loss of the country one holds dear. Farah's novel suggests that this kind of moral and spiritual lethargy invites more destruction and decay, albeit of a slower nature than the rage of war. Cambara's hyperactivity and openness stand in contrast to this general malaise. From the moment she sets foot in Mogadishu, she bustles from place to place, creating her own reality in which things work and people have motivation to help beyond clan affiliations and money. At the same time, Farah stresses Cambara's naivete by contrasting her impulsiveness with the steadiness of other characters, her female friend Kiin or the men Bile, Dajaal and Seamus — introduced in 'Links' — who have lived through Mogadishu's worst and still managed to maintain the skeleton of a civil society. These people, the concerned returnees with dollars and resources, working in conjunction with those permanently on the ground who have not lost their vision, provide a 'noble way of mourning' that leads to a narrative of hope. Their individual stories may not be as exciting as Ridley Scott's blood-driven film adaptation of the book 'Black Hawk Down,' but they are infinitely more important. That said, 'Knots' could benefit from a little more spark. It's narrated in a flat, matter-of-fact style that even Farah's use of the present tense cannot invigorate. Characters plod along, dragging their descriptions with them. In addition, the plot is somewhat predictable; it is all but obvious that things will resolve to Cambara's benefit. A fairy-tale ending is fine; however, the lack of serious obstacles for Cambara to navigate drains energy from what could be a thoroughly exciting story. But perhaps this is one of Farah's points: Not all war and recovery narratives are dramatic stories. Perhaps we are so used to media sensationalism, especially in descriptions of war in Africa, that we overlook the importance of the mundane aspects of life that must continue during times of conflict. We forget that societies persevere and eventually flourish after war because people struggle to preserve normalcy in the face of dramatic violence and chaos. Farah expertly tackles the violence of civil war, choosing instead of guns and bombs the claustrophobic environment of disintegrating personal relationships, marriages disturbed by verbal strife and domestic violence. Reading about these little battles allows us to understand the intense emotions that fueled and still fuel the war in Somalia without the usual imagery of vacant-eyed, bloodthirsty Africans. This is not to say that 'Knots' does not speak of the atrocities of war or employ violent characters and imagery. However, Farah downplays such images in favor of those that suggest rebuilding a collapsed state is no big drama. Rather it is a mass of small dramas performed by otherwise unimportant people such as Cambara." Reviewed by Louis Bayard, whose 'The Pale Blue Eye' has been nominated for an Edgar Award for best mystery novelPatrick Anderson, whose e-mail address is mondaythrillers(at symbol)aol.comUzodinma Iweala, the author of the novel 'Beasts of No Nation', Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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From the internationally revered author of Links comes "a beautiful, hopeful novel about one woman's return to war-ravaged Mogadishu" (Time)
Called "one of the most sophisticated voices in modern fiction" (The New York Review of Books), Nuruddin Farah is widely recognized as a literary genius. He proves it yet again with Knots, the story of a woman who returns to her roots and discovers much more than herself. Born in Somalia but raised in North America, Cambara flees a failed marriage by traveling to Mogadishu. And there, amid the devastation and brutality, she finds that her most unlikely ambitions begin to seem possible. Conjuring the unforgettable extremes of a fractured Muslim culture and the wayward Somali state through the eyes of a strong, compelling heroine, Knots is another Farah masterwork.
Set in Mogadiscio, Somalia, this novel breaks new ground and brings the author back to his literary roots. He presents the story of a woman raised in North America who returns to her homeland in a desperate attempt to find herself and reclaim her family's home from the warlord who has taken it.
About the Author
Nurudin Farah is the author of nine novels, including From a Crooked Rib, Links and his Blood in the Sun trilogy: Maps, Gifts, and Secrets. His novels have been translated into seventeen languages and have won numerous awards. Farah was named the 1998 laureate of the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, "widely regarded as the most prestigious international literary award after the Nobel" (The New York Times). Born in Baidoa, Somalia, he now lives in Cape Town, South Africa, with his wife and their children.
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