Nuruddin Farah's native country, Somalia, is shown in all its war-ravaged sadness in his harrowing novel, Knots
. Cambara is a young Somalian-born woman who has spent most of her life in Toronto. Through the carelessness of her husband and his mistress, Cambara's son has drowned there and she is devastated by her grief. On a sudden impulse, she decides to go to Mogadiscio (Mogadishu) to properly grieve for her son and to try to wrest her family property from the warlords who seized it. Her journey is frightening and what she finds when she gets there is appalling, but she perseveres and accomplishes much of what she sets out to do.
Along the way she is helped by many people, without whom her goals could never have been reached. Despite squalor, poverty, sexual depravity, petty meanness, and the constant threat of violence, Cambara and a small cadre of good people continue to make progress against daunting odds. Much of the activity centers around ousting the thugs in Cambara's house, making it habitable again and mounting a play there that will showcase the solidarity and civilizing influence women have, even in the direst circumstances imaginable. Cambara is an inspiring woman, filled with zeal to make her world a better place. The other women, and several men, who help her, are Somalis grieving for their once beautiful city, now a landscape of tumbled buildings, potholed streets, gunfire everywhere, and very little hope. Cambara and her friends try to renew that hope in people very near despair by showing them that cooperating against evil may sometimes prevail.
Despite Cambara's inspirational behavior, Farah has drawn her as a character difficult to like. She seems by turns a friend and a manipulative user. In one instance, as she describes it, "she sees nothing wrong in relying on Dajaal's bravery to do the dirty work as long as she does not have to witness or have firsthand knowledge of the perpetration of the violence." There are also problems with Farah's style, by turns arch and stilted and then, in the same sentence, slangy and idiomatic. It is off-putting to the reader, but the harrowing story does come through. --Valerie Ryan
From Publishers Weekly
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 émigré 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. (Feb.)
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