Nuruddin Farah's eight novels record the turbulent history of Somalia after it gained independence in 1960. Farah, however, has not lived in his native land since 1976—the year that his second novel, A Naked Needle, appeared in Europe. Traveling abroad at the time of the book's publication, Farah intended to return to his native country to resume his teaching duties at the university in Mogadishu. He called his brothers to give them details of his flight arrival, but they warned him not to return. At that time, the Marxist dictator Siad Barre ruled the country with an iron hand and suppressed all dissent. Because A Naked Needle was considered subversive in its depiction of the country's condition, Farah faced arrest and imprisonment.
Living in Europe, other parts of Africa, and the United States since then, Farah continued to record in fiction the plight of his fellow Somalians who endured Barre's tyrannical authority. His next three novels, Sweet and Sour Milk (1979), Sardines (1981), and Close Sesame (1983) form a trilogy called “Variations on the Theme of an African Dictatorship.” The second trilogy, “Blood in the Sun”—Maps (1986), Gifts (1992), and Secrets (1998)—traces Somalia's headlong plunge into anarchy before and after Barre's fall in 1991.
Links continues Farah's extended narrative of the East African nation he calls “the country of my imagination.” Like most of his earlier work, this novel focuses on a single character who faces personal conflicts that fuse with the political discord surrounding him. The protagonist, Jeebleh, returns to a devastated Somalia, which stands in sharp contrast to his comfortable environment in New York City. Shortly after his arrival at the airport, he discovers how deeply the country has sunk into violence when he witnesses a senseless killing carried out for fun by well-armed youths. The unease heightens as he is driven into the once-beautiful city of Mogadishu, which now lies in ruins. Both in this fictional account and in reality, Somalia remains a country in suspension. It has no recognized authority, no sanctioned leader, no national currency, no working municipality, nor any other feature associated with an established national system. There is a provisional government, whose officials, it is said, do little except embezzle foreign aid funds.
This state of political crisis dominates the narrative as Jeebleh settles into Mogadishu, renews old friendships, and sets out to fulfill the missions that have brought him to Somalia for a short time. A student of Dante when he attended university in Italy, Jeebleh draws parallels between the unending horrors he observes and the Inferno from Dante's La divina commedia (c. 1320; The Divine Comedy, 1802). At the beginning of part 2 of the novel, Farah quotes from canto 24 of theInferno that conjures up “so many, such malignant, pestilences.” The multiple forms of these pestilences assume substance, as Jeebleh experiences life in a city where the tamed vultures feast on the bodies that litter the streets. Ruled by competing warlords and their militias who are drugged from chewing a narcotic called qaat, the city lies divided by loyalties to such an extent that no one is safe: “In these unsettling times, everyone's fate, actions, dreams, hates, and aspirations were seen, understood, and interpreted in stark political contexts; distrust was the order of the day, and everyone was suspicious of everybody else.” The way Jeebleh reacts to these frenzied conditions, mixes with the city's inhabitants, and observes the vain attempt to seek normality provides an unsettled background as the narrative progresses.
As well as reproducing Somalia's current plight in grim detail, the novel tracks the country's history in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Jeebleh recalls at one point how many times the land had been invaded, conquered, and colonized. He notes that the aggressors always come by sea, for the long...
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