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Nuruddin Farah’s Crossbones Launched at The Book Lounge

Nuruddin Farah

Nuruddin Farah, a Somali writer now resident in Cape Town, is one of the world’s pre-eminent authors. He held an intimate audience captivated with his readings and insights into his home country at The Book Lounge earlier this week, where his latest novel, Crossbones, was launched. Crossbones is the final novel in the Past Imperfect trilogy, which began with Links and followed with Knots.

Nuruddin FarahCrossbonesIntroducing Farah to the audience was Sebastian du Plessis, who recalled how a few chapters of the author’s second novel, A Naked Needle, appeared in serialised form in a Somali newspaper in 1973. “When the government found his work politically objectionable, it was discontinued. His writings were described as ‘a selection of untruths’ and he fled Somalia in 1974 when the dictator, Siyad Barre, banned all his work and ordered the author be killed. ‘Somalia was a badly written play,’ Nuruddin observed, ‘and Siyad Barre was its author.’”

Farah endured 22 years of exile. In August 2006, at the request of the Islamic Courts Union, he acted as an emissary between Somalia’s two main warring factions, the transitional government army and the Islamists. His mission was cut short when Ethiopian troops invaded Mogadishu in December and expelled the Islamists.

The author read a couple of exceedingly moving extracts from Crossbones and then engaged in a fascinating discussion of his writing with members of the audience.

Present in the audience was Tony Morphet who said there were “many, many things that impressed me about the book”. He commented, in particular, on the author’s flexibility of focus. “It moves in and out of tiny, tiny events like the one’s you’ve been reading, but then there’s the comment about ‘Somalia, a land put to the sword’. This is a huge focus. It does that all the way through. It expands and contracts into very intense moments. I came to wonder…do you plot the novel before you write it or does it write its alternating focuses as you go along? It feels as though the whole thing is growing as you proceed.”

The author shared his thinking on narrative in a curious and beautifully poetic moment. “Standing at an angle where you have small views of many things at no time do you have a full view because your vision is obviously compromised by the absence of the panorama. You come to a boulevard, then you come to an alley. An alley cannot exist without a boulevard. That’s the way I move into a boulevard – to see greater things, but the more you see bigger things, the less you can see the small things.”

Further into the discussion the author recalled the horror of returning home to discover thieves at work, denuding his apartment of all his computers and backups of the novel. He spoke of his process of writing by hand in notebooks, which is how this novel was reconstructed after the loss, and spoke many a home truth about his homeland.

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Liesl Jobson tweeted from the launch using #livebooks:

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