Nuruddin Farah

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Nuruddin Farah
نور الدين فرح
3Nuruddin Farah.jpg
Farah in 2010 before a lecture at
Simon Fraser University.
Born Nuuradiin Faarax
(1945-11-24) November 24, 1945 (age 69)
Baidoa, Somalia
Occupation novelist, essayist, professor
Nationality  Somalia
Ethnicity Somali
Alma mater Panjab University
Subject nationalism, colonialism, feminism
Notable works From a Crooked Rib, Maps, Gifts, Secrets
Notable awards Kurt Tucholsky Prize, Lettre Ulysses Award, Neustadt International Prize for Literature, Premio Cavour, St. Malo Literature Festival Prize
Spouse Chitra Muliyil (1970-72)
Amina Mama (1992-present)
Children Koschin (born 1971)
Abyan (born 1993)
Kaahiye (born 1995)

Nuruddin Farah (Somali: Nuuradiin Faarax, Arabic: نور الدين فرح‎) (born November 24, 1945) is a prominent Somali novelist.[1] He was awarded the 1998 Neustadt International Prize for Literature.

Personal life[edit]

Farah was born in 1945 in Baidoa, Somalia. His father was a merchant and his mother a poet.[1] Farah was the fourth eldest boy in a large family.[2] He hails from the Ogaden Darod clan.[3]

As a child, Farah frequented schools in Somalia and adjacent Ethiopia, attending classes in Kallafo in the Ogaden. He studied English, Arabic and Amharic. In 1963, three years after Somalia's independence, Farah was forced to flee the Ogaden following serious border conflicts. From 1966 to 1970, he pursued a degree in philosophy, literature and sociology at Panjab University in Chandigarh, India.[2]

Farah's sister, Basra Farah Hassan, was a diplomat. She was killed in a bombing in January 2014 while working with the United Nations in Kabul, Afghanistan.[4]

Farah has two sons and a daughter.[5] He currently resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Cape Town, South Africa.[6]

Literary career[edit]

Nuruddin Farah in London, England in 1984.

After releasing an early short story in his native Somali language, Farah shifted to writing in English while still attending university in India. His first novel, From a Crooked Rib (1970), told the story of a nomad girl who flees from an arranged marriage to a much older man. The novel earned him mild but international acclaim. On a tour of Europe following the publication of A Naked Needle (1976), Farah was warned that the Somali government planned to arrest him over its contents. Rather than return and face imprisonment, Farah began a self-imposed exile that would last for twenty-two years, teaching in the United States, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Sudan, India and Nigeria. In 1990, he received a grant from the German Academic Exchange Service and moved to Berlin. In 1996, he visited Somalia for the first time in more than twenty years.[7]

Farah describes his purpose for writing as an attempt "to keep my country alive by writing about it".[1] His trilogies of novels - "Variations on the Theme of an African Dictatorship" (1980–83) and "Blood in the Sun" (1986–99) form the core of his work. Though Variations was well received in a number of countries, Farah's reputation was cemented by his most famous novel, Maps (1986), the first part of his Blood in the Sun trilogy. Maps, which is set during the Ogaden conflict of 1977, employs the innovative technique of second-person narration for exploring questions of cultural identity in a post-independence world. He followed the novel with Gifts (1993) and Secrets (1998), both of which earned awards. His most recent trilogy comprises Links (2004), Knots (2007) and Crossbones (2011).

Besides literature, Farah is an important scholar within Somali Studies. He serves on the International Advisory Board of Bildhaan: An International Journal of Somali Studies, published by Macalester College.[8]

"Blood in the Sun" trilogy: Maps summary[edit]

Farah at the Festivaletteratura in Mantua, September 2008.

Farah's Maps, one of his novels from the "Blood in The Sun" trilogy, is the coming-of-age story of a young boy name Askar. Askar, orphaned as a child, was found as both his parents were killed. He is raised by Misra (an Ethiopian outsider) and comes to see her as his "birth-mother", forming a bond with her that he believes can never be broken, a bond similar to that between twins, a cosmic bond - but when the Ogaden war breaks out Askar is separated from Misra. As he grows into adulthood he struggles with his identity, ethnicity and his loyalty, constantly asking himself: should he stay loyal to Misra, the one who protects him and raises him as her own, or stay loyal to his people.[9]

The central theme of Maps is identity – personal, familial, and national. Farah uses all three narrative perspectives (first person, second person, and third person) throughout the novel to examine the theme of identity. He constructs this multi-layered central theme of identity in various expressions: personal, familial, and national. Throughout the novel, Askar endeavors to comprehend his identity in a complicated environment of multiple and often, transforming identities. With Askar, Farah poses questions such as “Who am I?”, as identity becomes obscured doing colonial times. Farah asks this in relation to another question - “Who am I supposed to be?” - to get at a larger question of whether emotional connection or familial heritage are of more importance to one’s identity. The tension between connection and heritage can be seen through Askar’s and Misra’s relationship. Despite linguistic barriers, there is an unshakable connection between them, and the fact that Askar knows when Misra is speaking endearingly even when he doesn't understand the actual words shows that some things are universal. This does not mean genetics are inescapable though, nor is culture (linguistic/ethnic/geographic). Aw-Adwan, the Koranic teacher, and Misra have a connection based on Somali mutuality that Askar envies and does not understand, just as Askar has a genetic connection to his mother he never knew, as seen in their mutual fascination with water.[9]


Farah has garnered acclaim as one of the greatest contemporary writers in the world.[2] Having published many short stories, novels and essays, his prose has earned him, among other accolades, the Premio Cavour in Italy, the Kurt Tucholsky Prize in Sweden, the Lettre Ulysses Award in Berlin, and in 1998, the prestigious Neustadt International Prize for Literature. In the same year, the French edition of his novel Gifts also won the St. Malo Literature Festival’s prize.[5] In addition, Farah is a perennial nominee for the Nobel Prize in Literature, which is one of the only major literary prizes, for which he is eligible, that he has yet to win.[10]



  1. ^ a b c Maya Jaggi (21 September 2012). "Nuruddin Farah: a life in writing". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 September 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c Prentice-Hall, Inc. (editor) (2001). Literature Lover's Companion: The Essential Reference to the World's Greatest Writers - Past and Present, Popular and Classical. Prentice Hall Press. p. 200. ISBN 073520229X. 
  3. ^ Wright, Derek. "The Novels of Nuruddin Farah". Wardheernews. Retrieved 19 August 2014. 
  4. ^ "Basra Farah, sister of Nuruddin Farah, among casualties of Kabul attack", Somalia Online, January 18, 2014.
  5. ^ a b Lettre Ulysses Award for the Art of Reportage - Nuruddin Farah.
  6. ^ Farah, Nuruddin (2012). Crossbones. Granta. ISBN 9781847086099. Retrieved 26 June 2014. 
  7. ^ The Penguin Speaker's Bureau. Penguin Group
  8. ^ "Bildhaan - Editorial Board". Macalester College. Retrieved 25 February 2014. 
  9. ^ a b Farah, Nuruddin. Maps. New York: Penguin Books, 2000.
  10. ^ Michael Eldridge, "The Novels of Nuruddin Farah (review)", Africa Today, Vol. 52, Number 1, Fall 2005, pp. 141–43.

Further reading[edit]

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