Maps

By Nuruddin Farah

841 ratings - 3.75* vote

This first novel in Nuruddin Farah's Blood in the Sun trilogy tells the story of Askar, a man coming of age in the turmoil of modern Africa. With his father a victim of the bloody Ethiopian civil war and his mother dying the day of his birth, Askar is taken in and raised by a woman named Misra amid the scandal, gossip, and ritual of a small African village. As an adolescen This first novel in Nuruddin Farah's Blood in the Sun trilogy tells the story of Askar, a man coming of age in the

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Book details

Paperback, 259 pages
November 1st 2000 by Penguin Group

(first published 1986)

Original Title
Maps
ISBN
0140296433 (ISBN13: 9780140296433)
Edition Language
English

Community Reviews

Jim Fonseca

A story from the Muslim world in the “Horn” of East Africa, a peninsula that juts out toward Saudi Arabia. It’s kind of blank spot on the map for many of us, but it consists of Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea and Djibouti. The story is set in the 1970’s.

A young boy grows up in a world of women – his father has been killed in the endless territorial disputes of this area especially the on-going feud over Ogaden, a region disputed by Somalia and Ethiopia. His mother died at his birth, so he was adopted by the childless midwife. In this world of women he even comes to believe that he has menstruated. This is referred to more than a dozen times in the novel to the point where it seems overdone.

The main character grows up as a bright, scholarly “little adult” who looks down on the games and silliness of other kids his age. He is in love with his schooling and his wall maps, trying to figure out his place in the world literally and figuratively.

This is a diverse regions with many peoples. He grows up in a tiny village in a Somali-speaking world, but his adoptive mother is Oromo, from Ethiopia and she speaks Amharic (not Aramaic). This ethnic difference is critical because later in the story she is accused of treason by the Somalis and the boy has to decide if he believes this or not and deal with his feelings.

The young boy ends up being quasi-adopted by a well-off uncle and his wife in the big city of Mogadishu. In the transition from tiny village to big city, a whole new world opens up to him. Contrary to stereotypes of the Muslim world, the wife is very modern and drives to work as a college professor while her husband stays home to cook and keep house. The boy loves his country and wants to go to war to defend it and to get his territory back. His aunt and uncle want him to pursue his education and forget about these endless, futile territorial wars. So a big theme is the pen vs. the sword.

I found this to be a so-so read as a novel but its main value is in the local color of a part of the world that few novels emerge from. (Another that comes to mind is Paradise by Abdulrazak Gurnah.)

Chrissie

Don't give up on this book too soon. I feel the book completely turns around when Askar arrives in Mogadishu and one meets with Hilaal and Salaado. They are marvelous!

This is what I thought before this point: I wanted to like this book...... but I don't. I always check Kirkus Reviews because usually they do not praise a book or an author unless it is really good. In their review of Maps, shown on the Barnes and Noble site,they say it is "One of the best novels out of Africa in some time." I am very disappointed, both in the book and in the B&N review. I have not finished the book yet; I am about half way through. I will force myself to finish the book. I do not like the narrative. I do not think it gives insight of Somalian life. Please read Jess' review below. I agree with every sentence of her review! It seems silly to just repeat what she has said, but read her review and believe it. If I search for something good to say about Maps it would be that sometimes Farah does express intriguing thoughts, such as: "Annoy a child and you will discover the adult in him. Please an adult with gifts and the child therein re-emerges." Think about it, this is true! But on the whole this book is tedious, repetitive and boring. Buying this book was a mistake. If when I finish the book my opinion has changed I will let you know.

Well my opinion has changed! I love Farah's writing, and maybe all that I disliked before makes me appreciate the writing now even more. The book does give insights into Somalian life and the ethnic problems at the root of the Ethiopian and Somalian conflict. It also sheds light on other African conflicts.

Still reading ......

So in conclusion I would have to say that I do like Farah's writing. I personally do not like books that only express the dark side of life because all life includes sparkles of happiness and humor. Sometimes the sparkles are few and far between, but they are there. A book that dispenses with all sparkles is not true to life and is oh so difficult to read! This book does balance the despair and hopelessnes in Misra's life with hope and understanding and purpose, seen in the lives of Hilaal and Salaado. Askar is in the middle, confused and not knowing which way to be drawn. It is he who must define where he stands, and thus who he is.

This book is not easy reading, but well worth the effort. It is not only about African ethnic differences and their implications but also about the balance between body versus mind and fate versus our ability to control our lives. Hilaal and Salaado did not have an easy life, but they chose to direct their own lives and made a point of seeing life's sparkle. They remained compassionate and understanding of others and Misra.

Eric

Fantastic coming-of age story. For a culture as mysterious as that of the Somali, this book gives an interesting insight into the people and the wars that they fought, both to liberate themselves and to get to know who they truly are.
While the switch in points of view was confusing, it became easier to follow with time. The worldview of Askar, the main character, keeps changing as he grows older, and as the people that surround him react to their worlds, they give him an insight into human nature, and he learns what his place in this world is.
First Nurudding Farah book I am reading. Definitely not the last.

Shanae

Great book about identity, the colonization of Africans living within borders established by the colonizers, the fluidity of ethnicity and everything else you can imagine about Somalia and Egypt. Farah is an amazing writer who tells story with all types of imagery...it reads like poetry. I am big on writers who use language to their advantage and Farah is definitely one of those types.

Ece

Although it may seem like a simple theme, we can say that the identity problem and the transparent expression of this identity through race. “Askar seeks his identity, a quest that becomes linked to the identity of the land across which he moves.”

James Henderson

Maps is a novel by Nuruddin Farah, a chronicler of modern Africa's sociopolitical turbulence and growth who has lived in exile from his native Somalia since 1974. The first in a trilogy of novels, Maps is rich in concept and execution, beautifully worked in the dense, intricate prose. It tells the story of Askar, orphaned as a child, who is rescued from his dead mother's side and raised in a small village by Misra, an older woman who develops a mysterious, protective bond with him.

Eventually he moves to the capital to live with his prosperous Uncle Hilaal; however, Askar's origins continue to preoccupy him, and he grows into a serious, introspective youth fixed on the urgent question of his identity. Thus we have the central theme of this novel - identity - a theme that is woven with complexity as Askar begins with close ties to Misra, his substitute mother, and as he grows into young manhood with ties to the land, Somalia, metaphorically represented by maps which he studies and learns about first from Misra and later from Hilaal. It is with Misra that the boy Askar begins his journey toward becoming a man.

"Indubitably, she had done a most commendable job, training him in the nomadic lore of climatic and geographic importance -- that it was the earth which received the rains, the sky from whose loins sprang water and therefore life; that the earth was the womb upon whose open fields men and women grew food for themselves and for their animals. And man raised huts and women bore children and the cows grazed on the nearby pastures, the goats likewise; and the boy became a man," (p 134)

There are unique and striking images presented as Askar lives with Misra. Those of water and of blood, dreams of a future that is yet unknown.
"Water: I associate with joy; blood: not so much with pain as with lost tempers and beatings. But I associate something else with blood -- future as read by Misra. Once I even made a pun -- my future is in my blood." (p 36)
It gradually becomes true that Askar's blood and future are indelibly connected with Somalia. But her continues his search for identity. His father had died for the future of Somalia and Askar is taught about the past:
"'Whose are the unburied corpses?' Then the man smiled. He said: 'Our memories, our collective or if you like, our individual pasts. We leave our bodies in order that we may travel light -- we are hope personified. After all, we are the dream of a nation." (p 129)

Hilaal, the cook and nurturer in his city home of Mogadiscio, is able to provide some answers for his baffled nephew on the subjects of African tradition, Somalian manhood and selflessness. Employing a poetic, imaginative style, Farah skillfully juxtaposes Askar's emotional turmoil and the struggles of his beloved Somalia under siege, as the characters try to understand why blood must be shed for territorial gain. In the end, Askar must choose between avenging his soldier father's death by joining the army, or pursuing his academic studies, but the choice is taken out of his hands by powerful external forces.

This is a poetic coming-of-age story, following in the tradition of Dickens and many others. Farah makes it new with his poetic style, a unique narrative voice using different points of view, and with the complex relationships between family, friends, and the land. The result is a wonderful tale of searching for the identity of one's inner and outer self in a difficult world.

Jaspreet

About a week ago, I finished reading Maps by Nuruddin Farah . As with most things in my life, I fell behind on the process of writing the review. I told myself that it was okay to hold off on writing the review until I had some questions.

Before getting to the questions, I would like to get a (short) general review. The book was surprisingly engaging and powerful. From publisher’s weekly, here is a plot summary: Askar, orphaned as a child, is rescued from his dead mother's side and raised in a small village by Misra, an older woman who develops a mysterious, protective bond with him. Even when he moves to the capital to live with his prosperous Uncle Hilaal, Askar's origins continue to preoccupy him, and he grows into a serious, introspective youth fixed on the urgent question of his identity. Hilaal, the cook and nurturer in his city home, is able to provide some answers for his baffled nephew on the subjects of African tradition, Somalian manhood and selflessness. Employing a poetic, imaginative style, Farah skillfully juxtaposes Askar's emotional turmoil and the struggles of his beloved Somalia under siege, as the characters try to understand why blood must be shed for territorial gain. In the end, Askar must choose between avenging his soldier father's death by joining the army, or pursuing his academic studies, but the choice is taken out of his hands by powerful external forces.

In a larger sense the book is about the intersection and conflict between family and national identity. The uncle and aunt were my favorite characters and to me they represented the progression from a patriarchal societal model to one that is more equal.

LisaMM asked: For either book: what is the significance of the title?

In this book, I think that Askar uses maps to find his place in the world. As the war continues, the maps change and he realizes that location is fluid.

R asked: Although you haven't reviewed it yet, I'm aware that you really liked Maps. Can you pinpoint what exactly was so gripping or engaging about this book?

I have been thinking about what made me enjoy Maps and the only thing I have come up with is the tone of the book. It is serious and at time ominous. However, you can really see the progression of the main character from a young boy to a young man who is trying to fit together the various pieces of information he is given. I also liked the way questions about good and evil were raised and handled.

R also asked: I hear that the author of Maps has a very unique and powerful writing style. How would you describe it? Does it compare to any other authors you know?

This is a hard question to answer because I seem to have writer’s block in thinking about the author. The only thing I can think of is deceptively simple. The language and words he uses to express an idea are simple on the surface, but the sentiments and insight they provide are incredible. The only other author I can think of is David Malouf who wrote Remembering Babylon which I reviewed here.


Peter

Although this story jumps around in time from the very beginning, and sometimes steps out of time altogether in dream sequences, it also progresses forward steadily as the problem of the identity of Askar moves from mostly considerations of how the child Askar is defined by and against his adoptive mother Misra, to how those considerations become politicized as we come to understand that Misra is ethnically Ethiopian and Askar Somalian. But the initial definitions of child against mother, boy/man against woman never go away. They are mixed in with the problem of political identities, as Askar comes to understand that he is Somalian, and to consider what that means. But the categories Ethiopian/Somalian are never quite stable either; they are discussed and complicated throughout the book, and the discussion of maps itself brings in further considerations of the relationship between Somalia and Africa as a whole, and between colonizers and colonized. The book's narration, told in third, first and second person, helps create the sense throughout of the instability and plurality of identity. But this discussion of identity formation is never purely abstract, this is all set in a defined place and time, in the setting, to start with, of a region fought over by Ethiopians and Somalians, with Soviet intervention. The book raises possibilities, both uplifting and disturbing--life is sacrifice and the drinking of enemy blood, life is giving and love--but doesn't offer any clear resolutions. It's not always easy to follow. It's brilliant.

Chris Blocker

One almost needs a map to make sense of this novel. It's not that the story is convoluted; it's more the way the story is told. At its core, Maps is exquisitely written with a story that is perhaps a bit too drawn out, but is interesting nonetheless. The language Farah uses to craft this story is phenomenal. There is beauty in the simple construction of many sentences, philosophy in the placing of others. If Maps is any indication, Farah is a very talented writer with a particular knack for the English language (Farah writes in English despite it not being his first language).

For a reader such as myself, I wonder if Farah isn't too clever. I have a feeling this book offered more profound statements than I was able to take away from it. Particularly, what was the reason behind all the shifts in Maps? There are shifts in time, place, reality, and, most distracting, in point-of-view. Farah heavily utilizes first, second, and third person in Maps, switching at the end of nearly every chapter. Also, there seem to be questions of gender and gender identity at the heart of the novel, but I never spent enough time on the text to decipher what message I was supposed to walk away with.

I liked Maps sufficiently, but Farah isn't the kind of author I'd run to again. Linguistically, he reminds me of a more philosophical, more poetic Aleksandar Hemon (another author who wrote in a secondary language), but I found it difficult to stay engaged in the story. Perhaps it was just me and where I was at the moment in life.

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