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(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Nuruddin Farah in his seventh novel, SECRETS, tells the story of Kalaman, a thirty-three-year-old Somali who owns a computer business. Obsessed by questions about his past and his true parenthood, he sets out to discover the family’s secrets. Confused and distraught, Kalaman retreats to his grandfather’s farm outside of Mogadiscio. There he begins to unravel the past.

Kalaman suffers from an assortment of psychological problems, which manifest themselves in physical suffering. Believing that the truth will heal him, he demands to know the secrets that his mother and father have hidden from him. The novel turns into a kind of family saga as Kalaman retrieves fragments of the past from his grandfather, parents, and former nursemaid. Eventually all the pieces come together to form a complete picture, which may or may not cure Kalaman of his neuroses. That outcome remains uncertain.

The narrative works on two levels—the individual and the collective. The central character with his bundle of obsessions and conflicts represents the condition of Somalia just before it erupted into civil war in the early 1990’s. The connection between the personal and the public, though, remains oblique, so that the novel avoids being just a political or historical work. It emerges finally as a brilliant study of character and of family relationships. Richly textured, it also evokes the exotic qualities of the African nation. At the same time, the narrative provides a graphic picture of a nation headed for disaster when its dictator is about to be overthrown and its clans prepare for a bloody power struggle.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XCIV, May 15, 1998, p. 1594.

Emerge. IX, September, 1998, p. 65.

Library Journal. CXXIII, May 1, 1998, p. 136.

The New York Times Book Review. CIII, July 19, 1998, p. 11.

The New Yorker. LXXIV, June 15, 1998, p. 78.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLV, March 30, 1998, p. 68.

The Village Voice. June 2, 1998, p. 140.

The Wall Street Journal. July 17, 1998, p. W10.