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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
In short, this is an awkward and painful book to read; the prose made me cringe at least once every 5 pages. Yikes!
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."
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.
After her good deed with the warlord's girlfriend, saintly Cambara pulls two random urchins off the street and basically adopts them. That I can buy, given the recent loss of her son, but I can't buy how they miraculously both turn out to be good, sweet, well-behaved boys who only needed a bath and a change of clothes to become like normal children again. This in spite of the fact that one of the boys is a child soldier and the other has been living on the streets of Mogadishu for two years.
I do not understand why Nuruddin Farah is so highly regarded as an author. Perhaps his other books are better than this? I'm not going to bother to try to find out.