Nuruddin Farah is a leading Somali writer and professor, known for his feminist and nationalist literary works. Born in Somalia, he studied at the Koran school as well as at the British colonial school. Through his family’s escape to Ogaden, he grew up in a multi-lingual environment and learned to speak Somali, English, Italian as well as Arabic. While pursuing graduation from India, he decided to become a writer and subsequently, published his first novel. In mid 1970s, his writing career came to an abrupt halt when the candid portrayal of Somali society in his novels under the dictator Maxamed Siyaad Barre’s rule got him into trouble and he was forced into exile. During exile, he wandered around most of the time, and taught at Germany, Italy, India, and United States. He did not return to his home country for 22 years and during this time he published some of his most notable trilogies such as ‘Variations on the Theme of an African Dictatorship’ and ‘Blood in the Sun’. He used his works to discuss his opposition to Somali cultural norms and analyze the postcolonial dictatorship, war and the declining state of Africa. Most recurrent themes in his writing are women’s rights, the relationship between industrialized and developing countries, and the pre-Islamic understanding of religion in Somalia. With rich imagination and refreshing use of his adopted language, he became one of the most celebrated writers of Somalia
Childhood & Early Life
Nuruddin Farah was born on November 24, 1945, in Baidoa, Somalia, to Hassan Farah, a translator for the colonial government, and his wife, Aleeli Faduma, a recognized Somalian writer.
At a young age, Nuruddin moved to the Ogaden region of Ethiopia where his father worked as an interpreter for the British. He received his early education from schools in Somalia and adjacent Ethiopia, and studied English, Arabic and Amharic.
In 1963, three years after Somalia's independence, his family was forced to flee from Ogaden as a result of serious border conflicts. The following year, he took up a job as a clerk-typist with Somalia's Ministry of Education.
In 1966, he got enrolled at the Panjab University in Chandigarh, India, and graduated with a degree in philosophy, literature and sociology in 1970.
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After publishing a short story in his mother tongue, he began writing in English language. In 1970, he published his first novel ‘From a Crooked Rib’, a story of a nomad girl who flees from an arranged marriage to a much older man.
His next novel, A Naked Needle (1976), earned him the fury of the Somalian dictatorial regime. It was a tale of interracial and cross-cultural love and revealed a lurid picture of post-revolutionary Somali life in the mid-1970s.
During a tour to Europe, Nuruddin Farah came to know that the Somali government planned to imprison him over the contents of his last book. As a result, he began a self-imposed exile that lasted for twenty-two years.
He spent the next decades travelling around Africa and Europe but refused to move to the United States, where many universities were inviting him. He served as a guest lecturer in several universities in the United States, Germany, Italy, Sweden, and India.
In 1979, Nuruddin Farah started a trilogy called ‘Variations on the Theme of an African Dictatorship’ with the book titled ‘Sweet and Sour Milk’. It was followed by the second part of the trilogy titled ‘Sardines’ (1981), and the last one, ‘Close Sesame’ (1983).
In 1990, he received a grant from the German Academic Exchange Service and moved to Berlin. In 1996, he visited Somalia for the first time after 22 years of exile.
‘Maps’, the first novel of his second trilogy, ‘Blood in the Sun’, was published in 1986. The second and third part of the trilogy are ‘Gifts’ (1992) and ‘Secrets’ (1998) respectively.
In 2004, he began a new trilogy with the novel titled ‘Links’. The second part of the trilogy, ‘Knots’, was published in 2007 and the final part, ‘Crossbones’, in 2011.
Besides being a novelist, he is regarded as an important scholar within Somali Studies. He is also a member of the International Advisory Board of Bildhaan: An International Journal of Somali Studies.
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In 1970, Nuruddin Farah wrote his first novel titled ‘From a Crooked Rib’, which is considered to be one of his most acclaimed works. It portrayed the determination of one woman to maintain her dignity in the society and established him as a ‘male feminist’.
His 1986 work titled ‘Maps’, the first part of his ‘Blood in the Sun’ trilogy, earned him much recognition as a novelist. The book is set during the Ogaden conflict of 1977 and makes use of second-person narration technique to enquire about the cultural identity in a post-independence world.
Awards & Achievements
In 1980, he was honored with the ‘English-Speaking Union Award’.
He has also been awarded the ‘Kurt Tucholsky Prize’ in Sweden and the ‘Lettre Ulysses Award’ in Berlin.
In 1998, Nuruddin Farah received the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, a highly prestigious literary award given by the University of Oklahoma and its journal, World Literature Today.
He has been nominated many times for the Nobel Prize in Literature but hasn’t won one yet.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1970, he married Chitra Muliyil, a woman of Indian origin. The union bore him a child named Koschin but it was short lived and the couple divorced in 1972.
In 1992, Nuruddin Farah married Amina Mama, a Nigerian-British writer. The couple is blessed with two children: Abyan and Kaahiye.