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Knots Paperback – Mar 25 2008


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Nuruddin Farah's native country, Somalia, is shown in all its war-ravaged sadness in his harrowing novel, Knots. Cambara is a young Somalian-born woman who has spent most of her life in Toronto. Through the carelessness of her husband and his mistress, Cambara's son has drowned there and she is devastated by her grief. On a sudden impulse, she decides to go to Mogadiscio (Mogadishu) to properly grieve for her son and to try to wrest her family property from the warlords who seized it. Her journey is frightening and what she finds when she gets there is appalling, but she perseveres and accomplishes much of what she sets out to do.

Along the way she is helped by many people, without whom her goals could never have been reached. Despite squalor, poverty, sexual depravity, petty meanness, and the constant threat of violence, Cambara and a small cadre of good people continue to make progress against daunting odds. Much of the activity centers around ousting the thugs in Cambara's house, making it habitable again and mounting a play there that will showcase the solidarity and civilizing influence women have, even in the direst circumstances imaginable. Cambara is an inspiring woman, filled with zeal to make her world a better place. The other women, and several men, who help her, are Somalis grieving for their once beautiful city, now a landscape of tumbled buildings, potholed streets, gunfire everywhere, and very little hope. Cambara and her friends try to renew that hope in people very near despair by showing them that cooperating against evil may sometimes prevail.

Despite Cambara's inspirational behavior, Farah has drawn her as a character difficult to like. She seems by turns a friend and a manipulative user. In one instance, as she describes it, "she sees nothing wrong in relying on Dajaal's bravery to do the dirty work as long as she does not have to witness or have firsthand knowledge of the perpetration of the violence." There are also problems with Farah's style, by turns arch and stilted and then, in the same sentence, slangy and idiomatic. It is off-putting to the reader, but the harrowing story does come through. --Valerie Ryan --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Somalia-born Farah's ninth novel (after Links, first in a trilogy of which this is the second book) tells the spellbinding story of Cambara, a Somalian émigré to Canada. Cambara is mourning her only son's drowning death—in the Toronto pool of her abusive lawyer husband's mistress. In the aftermath, Cambara resolves to leave her husband, journey to Somalia and wrest control of her parents' property from warlord squatters. Her journey is mesmerizing.Cambara's first stop in Mogadiscio (aka Mogadishu, where the novel opens) is the filthy home of her foul-smelling cousin Zaak, a narcotic-chewing churl to whom she was briefly married. Zaak brings her up-to-date on the devastation to Somali society wrought by civil war and warlord rule: murderous AK-47–wielding youths; collapsed, empty theaters whose props have been burned for firewood (Cambara has worked as an actress and a makeup artist); constant mortal danger, despair and boredom. Cambara soon decamps for the relative luxury of an upscale hotel managed by Kiin, an unflappable woman who links Cambara to the Woman for Peace network, an organization of strong-willed activists that facilitates her daring production of a "play for peace." Kiin's web of connections also includes battle-hardened bodyguard Dajaal, who mobilizes others to drive the warlord's troops out of Cambara's family residence, which she then reoccupies to rehearse her play. Farah's depiction of the riotous urban madness that is Mogadiscio, where youth militias roam the ravaged streets of a once-cosmopolitan city, is both relentless and remorseful. But there is hope, too, in how Farah writes about the everyday heroics of people attempting to lead normal lives in the midst of savagely abnormal times. Farah describes these events in a lilting, poetic prose that is hypnotic in its ability to trace both the contradictions and hesitations of his protagonist and the complexities of Somali life. Despite its heavy subject, joy suffuses the novel. There have been Nobel rumblings about Farah for some time: certainly his ability to create a heroine whose power and depth of personality almost overwhelms the book written to contain her recalls the Australian laureate Patrick White. Few readers who let Cambara into their lives will easily forget her. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 8 reviews
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
awkward and painful Aug. 30 2007
By Carissa K. Dougherty - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I had to force myself to finish this book; somehow I felt that if I made it through the entire thing, something about the plot, the characters, or the subject matter would help it redeem itself. I was sorely wrong. The plot is incredibly contrived, the author (a man) presumably has a very skewed idea of what a woman's thought process might be, and what could have been a very interesting social commentary about civil war-torn Somalia fell short into platitudes and generalities. But the worst thing, by far, about Knots was the writing style. I felt like it had actually been translated into English from another language -- which is not a bad thing in itself -- but had then been scoured by someone looking to replace every other word with something from a thesaurus. The author mixed colloquial language and cliches with what he probably thought was very serious, "literary" passages -- extremely off-putting and jarring to read. The point of view of the book was also extremely distracting... second person omniscient? I felt like the whole story could have been more believable (and more of the horribly contorted and strained language contextualized) if the story had been told in the first person.

In short, this is an awkward and painful book to read; the prose made me cringe at least once every 5 pages. Yikes!
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Farah must have had amnesia July 30 2007
By LHaim - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
"Knots" has tremendous potential and could have been a beautiful story of a grieving mother, main character Cambara, who travels to her war-torn homeland, Somalia, to find herself and create a new life after much tragedy. Instead of developing Cambara's personality and relationships, Farah tries to squeeze too many people and events into a book that has no sense of time. One cannot tell if the events of the book happen within a span of one day or one year. Cambara has high aspirations (such as reclaiming her family's property from a warlord) that end up being easy and quick and that seem to take only a few minutes to accomplish, though this is very unrealistic and difficult to believe. Furthermore, Farah's writing is inconsistent. In one sentence a character has one sentiment or reaction and in the following sentence, there is a completely contradictory description. Thus much of the book was very confusing.

Farah's writing is full of unpleasant typos and poorly built sentences, as well as long run-ons and complicated vocabulary. The attempt to write eloquently is forced and unnatural.
The book started out well and was very interesting, but the downhill slope was steep and quick. Less than 100 pages into the book it was already convoluted and messy. It was clear that Farah was rushing and pushing characters and events, leaving them superficial and unrealistic.
It was very disappointing to me that a book that started out fairly well could have taken such a sharp turn. I haven't read any of Farah's other books but I hope that they are much better than "Knots."
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Much potential - not realized July 29 2007
By KAM - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I really wanted to like this book, especially since I had recommended it to my book club. But I'm afraid there is very little to recommend it. I appreciate that Mr. Farah is an important voice for Somalia - a country that has apparently completely devolved into anarchy - but this novel does very little to illuminate the causes or potential cures for what ails that desparate place. I found the characters to be two-dimensional and undeveloped, the voice and point-of-view to be muddled, and the English to be juvenile (I understand that English is not the author's first language - so the editor is to be faulted here). The story-line reads like a soap opera -- amazing coincidences save the main character at every turn. And for me, the greatest fault is that this is not really a novel at all. A novel tells a story through which we can learn about ourselves and others but here we are simply told what the main character is thinking or doing - rather having the action and context reveal possible motives. And even this expository style is inconsistent with abrupt shifts that have no grounding in what has gone before. There are so many potential and valuable themes here that are just never realized: the role of women in humanizing and civilizing a society, the value of the arts in redeeming otherwise de-humanized individuals, how violence begets violence and how to break that cycle, and so on. I finished the book because of my sense of loyalty to the Book Club but I'm afraid it is not really worth the time it takes to plod through it.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Insight into living in Mogadiscio (Mogadishu) July 19 2007
By R S Cobblestone - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Knots, by Nuruddin Farah, is a novel about a Somali-raised girl (Cambara) returning to Somalia as a mother grieving over the drowning of her only son and the unfaithfulness of her husband in Canada. It is an exceptional book about a woman, written by a man. Farah is Somali by birth, and the detail in his description of life in Mogadiscio (Mogadishu) shows.

In this novel, Farah doesn't share the true reasons for Cambara's trip to Mogadiscio until the midpoint of the novel, in chapter 17. Up to that point, the reader is kept wondering about Cambara's secrets. Thus, the story is slow to develop, but intriguing enough to keep your attention.

This was a fascinating story, but it slipped a point by having everything work in Cambara's favor throughout. Perhaps this is my bias, but I expected life in Mogadiscio to be more difficult than Farah portrayed. Regards, the rich tapestry in the writing made me stick to the end, which was very abrupt.

I understand some of the characters in Knots have appeared in at least one other of Farah's novels. This one didn't have the feel of a sequel, and I'm sure it wasn't meant to be one.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
likable character in ponderous novel July 26 2007
By Rachel Thern - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Cambara is a grieving mother who is estranged from her husband and smothered by her loving but overbearing mother. She leaves Toronto for the city she grew up in, Mogadiscio, where she hopes to recover the family house from the warlord occupying it. Cambara is a likable character, a strong and determined woman. Her viewpoint is so sympathetic and her disgust at some of the ways of men, including the details of their slovenly personal habits, would lead one to believe that this novel was written by a woman if one didn't know better.

Farah's style of writing starts off effective but grows more ponderous as the book continues. He includes various literary references, sometimes interesting, and descriptions that contain rather visual similes that sometimes get a bit out there. He will sometimes describe the same detail or thought that a character has several times, almost as if he had written down every way he thought of wording something and then didn't go back to edit anything out. Every time Cambara takes an action, we are presented with her conflicting thoughts on what she is doing in a way that includes all the difficulties that every action can entail in the environment that she is in, such as a decision of whether or not to wear a veil. However, every thought and action is described in such detail that it slows the action of the book to a crawl in some places and dilutes the impact.


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