Somali novelist Nuruddin Farah still has fire in the belly

Renowned Somali novelist Nuruddin Farah, a writer of more than 10 novels, enjoys universal critical acclaim as “one of the most sophisticated writers in contemporary world literature.”
Article Keydmedia Online
Somali novelist Nuruddin Farah still has fire in the belly

Farah’s literary genius during a writing career spanning more than half a century has earned the 67-year-old author a place among the continent’s leading writers like Kenya’s Ngugi wa Thiongo and Nigeria’s Chinua Achebe.

Yet, listening to Farah tell his story during a public lecture at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, he paints the picture of a born rabble-rouser at war with the conservative society he was born into.

That mischief might have helped hone Farah’s literary skills as he grew up, but the unlikely merger of the two conflicting circumstances to produce a celebrated writer eventually earned Farah several deaths threats and a life-time in exile.

A fourth son in a family of 11 children, Farah says that position proved beneficial to his intellectual growth to a degree because his brothers guided him, taught him and answered questions that his parents either could not or would not answer. However, the fact many adults did not have time for Farah’s questions in his childhood also prompted him to seek solace and answers in books. He began to read critically.


By the time he started formal schooling in birth place of Baidoa in Somalia, Farah was independent minded enough to challenge what he thought did not make sense to him. As was becoming the norm, such actions often got Farah into trouble – starting almost right from day one in school.

“I had failed to give my name to the teacher when he instructed me to stand up and say it,” he revealed. “I could not make sense of the fact that the teacher who lived in our house and knew my name was asking me the question, ‘Who are you?’ I refused to do so wilfully, asserting that I had forgotten, maybe because he placed emphasis on the word ‘who’ in his ‘Who are you?’"

Farah says looking back even now, he believes he did the right thing. Defending his position, Farah said, “It might never have occurred to my parents or my teachers that I would have gladly answered any other question but not that one because they were not aware of what the answer might be or where it would lead or whether I had the competence to deal with the question.

I was five going on six then; too inexperienced to voice my doubts. To date, I do not know how to answer the question ‘who are you?’ with the sauciness of a man in his 60s.”

Article 21 May 2021 10:14

I read your article on Foreign Policy with keen eyes and interest. While whining from public officials does not deserve response from any sensible citizen of the Republic of Somalia, I felt compelled to counter false narrative with more objective analysis.