A Book That Shows Humanity in the Midst of Chaos

“We are happy here, never mind how others might describe us…” 193

Knots, set during the civil war in Mogadishu, tells the story of Cambara, a Somali born woman who leaves her broken life in Canada and returns to her homeland. After a betrayal by her husband results in the accidental death of her young son, Cambara builds a mission for herself; a mission to return to a city in chaos and reclaim her family’s property from a minor warlord.

Farah no doubt, shows his ability to capture the reader’s interest, to guide us through a very human story set in the cruel circumstance of war. He presents characters that are living consequences of their situation and avoids making them empty, war-worn souls.

Farah portrays Cambara as a heroine, a woman whose devastating loss has made her daring, made her a woman, unrelenting. However, as the story progresses, I found that although Cambara has boatloads of conviction, she is hardly a figure upon which such grandiose plans can be loaded, upon which we can rely to execute such plans with bravery and ferocity. Throughout the novel, Cambara constantly enlists the help of others. Although this serves to show that people can be generous in the most difficult of circumstances, at times, it takes away from the character we want to believe Cambara is, from the force we expected her to be when we first heard of her plans.

Knots is a book that depicts a war ravaged city without making this the end-all-be-all of its people. I found the strength of this book in characters like Kiin, a woman who runs a hotel and makes a good life for herself and her family in Mogadishu despite having the means to leave. We see her with other women, like Raxia, a doctor, running a ‘Women for Peace’ network with courage and commitment despite the consequences they may face for some of their efforts. This portrayal of purposeful characters that not only build their lives in the most difficult of circumstances but also dedicate themselves to ameliorating the conditions of others, allows the reader to glimpse full stories where war is not center stage and where humanity can be found in the midst of chaos.

Knots by Nuruddin Farah

Penguin |2007| ISBN: 978-0143112983

Review by Liyou Mesfin Libsekal

 Liyou Mesfin Libsekal  is an Ethiopian poet born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She spent the majority of her childhood in different parts of East Africa. She earned a BA in Anthropology from the George Washington University in 2012; she now lives in her home country. She’s the winner of the 2014 Brunel University African Poetry Prize. Find more of her work here and on Facebook



Somalia: Perfection (excerpt) | Faysal Aw-Cabdi Axmed

Let me tell you some more of what makes her so special.
Hibo is the very best woman that I’ve ever seen.
Her mother’s foresight has protected her good name and honour.
Her father is a principled man who has shown great courage.
And her respected, tight-knit family stands at her side.
God gave her slenderness and a flawless character.
She is modest and she never strays.

Capable of building a home and raising a family,
this woman is complete and cannot be surpassed.
She stands out from other women like the dhamas tree* soars above the
You’d die with her, you’d die for her and forever you’d be with her.
And before death claims me, I must make her mine.

Faysal Aw-Cabdi Axmed was born in Hargeisa in 1968. He attended secondary school in Somalia  and moved to London for university. He now owns a restaurant and is a TV presenter. He’s written over 200 poems and 350 songs to date.

Culled from Poetry Translation Center. 

Black Mamba Boy

Who: Jama

What: Traveling through Somalia, Sudan, and Eritrea to find his father.

Should I read it: Absolutely. It’s a thrilling coming-of-age tale with important historical narratives.

Qq: “His mother, his father, his sister, Shidane and maybe Abdi were roaming among the stars, arguing, laughing and watching….He would join them eventually, but not until he had delivered all the seeds that the pomegranate world offered” – Pg 285

Black Mamba Boy is a beautifully written tale of perseverance and hope set against the rough sands of Somaliland, Sudan, and Eritrea as a young beggar boy named Jama sets out to find his father after his mother’s death.

Jama is a wry, yet oddly noble, character who is fostered by a sense of awe at the world outside his little Aden corridor. Nadifa Mohamed’s writing is brilliantly engaging, her research creates an altogether realistic and haunting image of North Africa under Italian and then British colonial rule in the 1930’s.

The characteristic red dust of Jama’s hometown lingers through every page as Jama grows from an agile child to a keen man, learning from his mistakes, falling in love and bearing the consequences of his actions, eventually discarding the ghost of a father he sought for protection and instead emerging as his own strong, capable man.

This is not a romantic story, if anything it is an epic roman à clef that focuses on a slice of North African history the world ought to remember. Black Mamba Boy captures your attention and doesn’t relinquish its hold until you have laughed, shuddered, nursed a small bitterness at the barbaric injustices of imperialism, and ultimately triumphed with Jama and the lands he traverses. Black Mamba Boy is one for the bookshelves.