By Nuruddin Farah

258 ratings - 2.98* vote

A new novel from one of the world's great writers-an extraordinary work set in Mogadiscio, Somalia-that both breaks new ground and brings him back to his literary roots. A strong, self-reliant woman who was born in Somalia but brought up in North America, Cambara returns to Mogadiscio to escape a failed marriage and an overweening mother. Her journey back to her native ho A new novel from one of the world's great writers-an extraordinary work set in Mogadiscio, Somalia-that both breaks

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Book details

Hardcover, 432 pages
February 1st 2007 by Riverhead Hardcover

(first published January 1st 2007)

Original Title
1594489246 (ISBN13: 9781594489242)
Edition Language

Community Reviews


Meh. I just could not get into this book. The characters neither acted nor sounded like real people. They all talked the same way and all made long speeches with big words -- even the character Gacal, who I think was only about ten years old. Cambara, the protagonist, goes to Somalia to escape a horrible marriage, grieve her dead son and reclaim her family's property which has been taken by a warlord. She shows up and right away half of Mogadishu comes to her saying, "We will help you! We will do anything you want, at risk of our lives, and you won't have to pay us! In fact, we'll even foot your bills! You can do whatever you want, no matter how strange it seems, and no one will ask you any questions! You can even go to your family property, get a plumber to make improvements, and take the warlord's pregnant girlfriend to the hospital, and she won't even inquire who the heck you are and what are you doing in her house! And then she will conveniently disappear from the story, never to be mentioned again!"

Cambara also pulls two random urchins off the street and basically adopts them -- which I can buy, given the recent loss of her son -- and miraculously they both turn out to be good, sweet, well-behaved boys who only needed a bath and a change of clothes to become normal children. 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?


Kelly picks up this book at the U library because the author will be a visiting professor there in the fall. It was already on her list, this seems like the time.

From the get go, she is a little put off by the voice. It's third person present, narrating the activity as it happens. She always hates this kind of voice--she used to have a friend who wrote all of her short stories like this. Seeing another author use this voice, now Kelly knows why her friend's stuff was so annoying.

Cambara, the protagonist of this novel, returns to Mogadishu after decades in Canada. She stays with her foster brother/cousin/ex-husband in a rundown house. Civil war rages around them. This makes no sense. She has big plans to repo a family house she has never lived in. Huh? Not until page 210 does Kelly get a sense of why she is there; it involves puppets.

The word "slog" keeps coming to Kelly's mind as she reads this. She knows she could have been reading so many other novels this summer. Finally, she realizes that life is too short. She returns the book to the library, unfinished.


this is a tough one, because in sprawl, vision, and story construction this novel is great and it kept me mesmerized all the way through (and it's a long one!); but the writing is so infuriatingly sloppy... ugh. my best guess is that someone was in a hurry to put this out, and no one had time to go over it and edit it. many sentences are simply atrocious -- really badly written. this is by anyone's standards. just open the book at random and you are basically guaranteed to come across one of them. but farah has such an absurd gift for storytelling, i found the slog worth it anyway. after a while i grew to like the language, too, especially when the choice of word was so out of place (you can kind of tell what word he meant to use instead of the one on the page) that it's actually interesting. on some other occasions, you know farah *meant* to use a specific word, bizarre as it is used in that context, and that makes his language at the very least whimsical and maybe brilliant (it is certainly brilliant in _Links_, a much shorter, tighter, better-written book).

i read a review somewhere in which a critic claimed that farah doesn't know english well because he started using it only in the 60s. dude, the 60s were forty years ago! this critic, of course, had not read any other novels by farah and so didn't know that in them the language is also idiosyncratic but by no means incompetent.

_Knots_ is a fairy tale about conquering barbarism by sheer force of civilization. well, not really, because the forces of civilization make quite abundant use of violence, though the violence is only alluded to, never shown. this is one of the dilemmas of the book (and it is explicitly voiced by the protagonist on quite a few occasions): the compromises we are forced to embrace to make the world better. it's all pretty dirty out there, even when we are mercifully spared the sight of it.

but, with blood safely out of sight, idealism wins the day and art, friendship, compassion, and solidarity triumph over the dark forces of moral and civic dissipation. i especially like how friendship and moral bonds come to substitute clans as forces around which people coalesce with one another and keep each other safe.

if this sounds a bit too easy, it is. i said this is a fairy tale. and an uneasy one it is, too. there's a lot of cash thrown around by our various heroes, and a lot of influence, and, clearly, the assumption is that wealth won't hurt if you plan to reconquer ground lost to mayhem. but i didn't mind. there are bad characters and good characters, and the bad characters are really bad -- repulsive, irredeemable, unbearable. they are weak, smelly, petty, vicious, lost. the good characters, though, are almost saintly and you grow to love them. maybe it'll be difficult for someone to love them, they are so steeped in contradiction, but i don't mind contradiction and i loved them.

this is the most feminist book written by a man i have ever read, and that electrified me. he places all the blame for the bloody, meaningless somali civil war squarely on the shoulders of men, no qualification necessary.

at the end of the day, i felt hopeful for this world of ours. maybe farah wanted to show us that there are somali people in the world who know what it is to be good, refined, intelligent, sophisticated, and unbelievably good. maybe he used his bad characters as a metaphor for the sorry state his country is in, and his good characters as a metaphor for redemption and hope. it worked for me.


The writing was choppy. If you've ever been in a boat on stormy waters...

So I decided, 30 pages in, that I was going to speed read. That helped. There is an adequate story underneath the writing and the author depicts some deep relational and emotional situations.

The narration was odd. The main character, Cambara, seemed to be unstable, just a tad. And it was difficult to enjoy her voice at times because of this emotional or mental instability. An odd character.

But I enjoyed getting a picture, however fictionalized it may have been, of the state of Somalia, and more specifically, Mogadishu.

But the writing was odd. Too many adjectives? Metaphors? Similes? I don't know. He used weird words to communicate the story in places. I need to read some of his other stuff.


Although it's always interesting to delve into other cultures, this was ultimately frustrating and disappointing. The writing style was oddly formal and awkward, and the characters' motivations perplexing and inconsistent. Even the main character's reasons for returning to Somalia didn't make any sense -- why would a woman seeking to start a new life go to a place where women have so little power or control? Her tenuous connection to the country, and her feelings towards her initial host made her choices and expectations absurd. And accomplishing her goals merely by asking others to help her was pushing believability past its bounds.


I found this book extremely hard to stomach. As a woman, I found the author's thoughts regarding what it means to be a woman and a woman's inner thoughts completely off base and at times degrading. On the other hand, this based-on-fact and-history book was a porthole to a previously unaccessible Somali world.


So much of this story is the unfolding of what is in the mind of Cambara. Ater her son dies, she returns to Somalia where she was born in order to find herself and grieve. From dreams to thoughts, we struggle through her decisions. For so much mulling over, she makes ones that turn out lucky but from my point of view, makes them without considering consequences. Too much that happens seems like she is blessed with luck. She gets help immediately even though her first former husband is chewing Quat constantly. She makes a new friend who gives her free rent and food in the hotel and helps her have car rides and security during Modadiseios uprising when anyone else would have been killed. She gathers youngsters and older men who serve as surrogate children and love her and everything turns out right. She puts on her first play. That seems the weirdest. In a country that does not permit images of real things, her play requires that the youngsters act as chicken and eagle. This took a long time to read. Based on truth but a little far fetched perhaps.


I feel odd giving 2 stars to a writer as acclaimed as Nuruddin Farah. Its the first book of his I've ever read and I'm assuming his other works are better. I was quite disappointed in this book, which is about a Somali-Canadian woman who returns to Mogadishu to reclaim her family property from a warlord. Maybe I'm missing something, but the book just didn't impress me or have the sort of depth I was hoping for. Has anyone else read it? What did you think? Can anyone recommend another book by him they really liked?


I used to think that if I started a book I had to finish it. This was one of those books I just couldn't get into. I think I was about 80 pages in when I quit. I didn't really care about the characters, and found I was forcing myself to read on. I've heard good things about this author, so it could just be that I have too much on my mind right now....

Jo M. F.

I am currently still reading this although I started it a while ago because I could not get into the story at all. The writing is dense and was hard to follow. I will give it another try some time when my powers of concentration are better. This is not a book to read in bed at night when you are getting sleepy.