Somalian writer Nuruddin Farah is a fantastic writer. I earlier read his novel “Gifts” and just finished his latest last night, “The Links.” It’s the story of a Somalian who now lives in New York with his wife and daughters who goes back to Mogadiscio to honor his mother’s grave. The story begins with his arrival at a small airstrip outside of the city. Surprisingly someone has sent a vehicle to pick him up, even though Jeebleh didn’t think anyone knew he was coming. Immediately we are faced with the jarring chaos of Somalia, young men striding around with heavy machine guns, intoxicated with qaat, an impenetrable disregard for life seeming to permeate all the characters he sees. Slowly we are drawn into his story as he tries to make sense of the city and life he once knew so well, now reduced to civil war…
described brilliantly at the end of the novel as “continuous fighting based on grievances that are forever changing.” As an ex-pat Somalian from NYC, the ghosts of the U.S. Rangers who attacked Mogadiscio back in the early 1990s hang over parts of the story, but the real drama is Jeebleh’s internal struggle with his own confusing family relations, his rejection of clan identity, his embrace of his half brother and murderous rejection of their shared elder brother, a man who once jailed them both for years and is now a fat, egomaniacal small time warlord. Two young girls remain offstage throughout most of the novel, but drive the emotions and fears of the main characters. There is a kind of dreamy/nightmarish quality to the whole novel, removed as Jeebleh is from his normal life, removed as Mogadiscio is from its formerly ‘normal’ life. Farah brilliantly captures the opaque (to us) dynamics of daily life in a war-torn, brutalized corner of the world, one that once enjoyed a peaceful and predictably normal life. Moreover he is able to penetrate indirectly some of the causes of this shocking breakdown in civility, attributing it to the re-emergence of clan identities, the degradation of other kinds of human connections and any sense of shared urban life, and the crucial role of U.S. intervention in exacerbating these dynamics just when they might have begun repairing themselves.
I loved this novel as much for how it brought me into the specifics of daily life in this area reduced to 21st century barbarism as for the lyrical prose and humanity that made me look forward each night to re-entering “The Links.” Like all great novels, I’m sad to have finished it!