The novel Secrets by Nuruddin Farah is about a man called Kalaman, who returns to his village in Somalia with his childhood sweetheart, Sholoongo, just before the outbreak of the Somalian civil war. He finds a place and a people at odds with itself, as he himself is at odds with who he is, and as such, many of the best quotes in the novel examine Somalian and individual identity.
For some, collective and individual identity are inseparable:
Let's for a change talk about the entire country, and its impending collapse into blood-letting anarchy. And let's agree for what it is worth that our nation's predicament is our own predicament too, collectively and individually, each of us an accomplice in its ruin. Can anything be done to stop the country from fragmenting into family fiefdoms? I doubt that this is feasible at this stage. Because what is happening to the collective identity of the nation and in the individual lives of its people is not tiddlywinks, a game played with pieces of plastic made to jump into a container. What is happening is a life-and-death matter. The games are becoming more deadly on a daily basis.
The problem of casting blame is shown in the novel when Sholoongo, who had always been ostracised from the community for being born under the wrong star, is blamed for an elephant attack on the village. This is despite the fact that the elephant attack occurs because the village stole the tusks and hides from the dead bodies of the elephant's ancestors.
The Somalians' relationship with animals and nature is a continuous theme. At one point, a plague of locusts swoops down on the village and eats all the organic matter they can find. In retaliation, the villagers start feeding on the locusts, leading one character to ask,
If I refuse to eat, it is because I am asking, is it worth our humbling our human status by feeding on the locusts? Are we not engaging in a lowly form of self-abuse, eating the locusts because they have wrought havoc on our lives, because they have deprived us of our harvests?
He thinks that eating the locusts could foretell a darker future
when we will feed on our neighbours of dispossessing us of our share of food, or of denying us our rightful place.
At times, it feels like this darker future is just over the horizon.
Only the unwise trust those close to them, a brother, a sister, or an in-law. Ask anyone in power, ask a king, and he will advise you to mistrust your kin.