From a Crooked Rib

By Nuruddin Farah

424 ratings - 3.34* vote

Written with complete conviction from a woman's point of view, Nuruddin Farah's spare, shocking first novel savagely attacks the traditional values of his people yet is also a haunting celebration of the unbroken human spirit. Ebla, an orphan of eighteen, runs away from her nomadic encampment in rural Somalia when she discovers that her grandfather has promised her in marr Written with complete conviction from a woman's point of view, Nuruddin Farah's spare, shocking first novel

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Book details

Paperback, 176 pages
June 27th 2006 by Penguin Books

(first published 1970)

Original Title
From a Crooked Rib
0143037269 (ISBN13: 9780143037262)
Edition Language

Community Reviews


Farah takes the perspective of Ebla, a nineteen-year old Somali girl from a rural area who has no education, and whose reflections on freedom and society form the incendiary core of the book. Most of them arise from her experience at the hands of men to whom she is a chattel.

I found this to be a movingly simple and unaffected account from the perspective of a woman of few words and many insights. At times, she seems almost to become a cipher for the subjugation of women in Somalia; Farah does not cast her as a rebel heroine flying well-formed ideological flags. In fact, I now realise that my desire for her to rebel and demand her rights is an orientalist desire informed by stereotypes. Ebla's reality is not the reality my still colonised mind imagines for her. Yet Farah condemns the injustice she suffers effectively in the revelation of each prosaic detail in her life. He makes her as alive to us as we are to ourselves.

Adam Dalva

Moving, insightful, and quick - I'm happy that I read this and learned about a culture I didn't know much about, but I can't say that I particularly enjoyed the experience. It has (as other reviewers have pointed out) many of the flaws of the first novel, one written in just three weeks: time moves oddly; the occasional perspective shifts are jarring; an overreliance on dreams; the accumulation of plot begins to overwhelm the writer, as evidenced by the book changing style as it goes - big scenes at the beginning with lots of detail, but a rush at the end, involving a coincidence (a bad one) to get Farah out of a polygamy subplot that he never seemed interested in.

I really enjoyed the first 30 pages of this, and Farah's gifts, which have lead to a great career, are apparent - his inhabitation of the perspective of an 18 year old girl is notable and a happy surprise. And she is a great character, one I cared about. But beyond the quirks in the writing of this debut, books about curses tend to feel flat if the curse is introduced in the beginning. It's a bit like a movie preview that gives away too much: you still watch, but you're waiting to get past what you already sort of know.


"You know how you were created" he asked smiling
"yes from clay like you" she replied also smiling.
"not from clay, Adam was created from clay. i mean where woman was created" he said ...
"yes i know" She said
"let me tell you"
"why should you tell me? i know where woman was created from" she said
" But don't tell me, let me tell that they were created from the crooked Rib of Adam" and then he added " "and if anyone tries to straighten it he will break it"

This is a story about a young girl who is trying to be independent in a nomad dominant culture even though she is illiterate and poor and very young.

I dont think its a coincidence that "Ebla's" Name literally means "flawless" and the other womans Name "Aouralla" also mean the same thing .... The two words "Eeb" and "Aoura" came from the arabic words عيب، عورة the two words are mostly used to describe women as "flaws" or as less than human being, so i liked the way he used the words.

This book was written more than 40 years ago and the story is way before that time, but reading it is like reading about a story that just happened.
the differences are back at that time it was husbands who used to tell girls that they were created from crooked ribs and now teachers at school do that.

My favorite part in the book was when "Ebla" told her second husband that she also have another husband.
" No i am not telling a lie, why should i ? you have another wife and i have another husband, you are a man and i am a woman so we are equal, you need me and i need you we are equal" she replied
" we are not equal, you are a woman and you are inferior to me, and if you have another husband you are a harlot" he said.

Now i understand why the publisher thought the writer was a woman, it shows the misogyny of the society and its very hard for a man to describe it like that specially at that time.

Lets wish to have more women like "Ebla", women who don't accept everything and women who tell their husbands that they are equal to them and that they weren't created from some weird crooked ribs.


The writing was very simple but this story really pulled me in. I am so busy right now but this story had me in a strangle hold. It was the first novel I read on my Kindle. A good way to start. What an interesting unique character Ebla was.


Written 40 years ago, this early novel from Somali writer Nuruddin Farah tells of an independent but uneducated young woman who leaves her tribe rather than marry a man she does not care for and flees to a life in town - first a rural center called Belet Wene and then to the city of Mogadishu. It is near the time of Somalia's independence from Italy, and her unsophisticated and limited grasp of what independence means for her may well represent the author's vision of Somalia, about to steer its own course in the modern world - a path that has led, as we know, to much political and economic discord.

Ebla, the central character, takes shelter first with a cousin, whose wife gives birth to a child in the first days of her arrival. In spite of her independence, Ebla often permits herself to be guided by decisions others make for her, which is much of the time. As a result, she marries a man she has met only once, and while her first husband is away for several months, she marries another man, who is himself already married (permissible for him in a Muslim culture) but to a battle-ax of a woman who thoroughly intimidates him.

In a picaresque style that varies between comedy and melodrama, the story focuses in passing on the conditions of being female in Somalia where, created from the "crooked rib" of Adam, a woman counts in Muslim law as only half a person, marriages are arranged for them, female circumcision is common, and only a clever, worldly woman can achieve a hard-won independence from dominance by men.


Ebla, a young Somali woman, takes matters into her own hands when told that she is to be married to a man many years her senior. She is illiterate, without schooling; hers is a nomadic life, a world of cattle and isolation.

In a way, Ebla reminds me of Janie in Their Eyes Were Watching God: Ebla has very little by way of status, power, or agency, but she is determined to take her life—or at least her marriage—in her own hands.

And yet...Ebla succeeds, and she doesn't. She finds refuge with a cousin, only for that cousin to use her and then make plans to marry her off as repayment of a debt. She elopes but soon finds that marriage is not all she might have wished for. When her husband goes to Italy and she learns that he has not been faithful, she takes steps that are, arguably, unusual for a woman in her position: 'Tell Tiffo that I am willing to marry him secretly. Maybe he will also want that. And if Awill comes back and doesn't want to return to me, then I will stay with him. I love life, and I love to be a wife. I don't care whose' (125).

It's a bold claim, not least when you consider that married life has not, on the whole, been particularly good to Ebla. Perhaps it is the idea of marriage she loves, or the idea of making her own choices? In any case, despite her lack of education, Ebla proves herself to be something of a budding philosopher, always questioning meaning.

Farah ends the novel in a way that seems more fitting for a short story than for a longer work, and we are left to wonder, what next? For Ebla's situation remains precarious, uncertain. Perhaps she has improved her future, but perhaps not.

Rachel M.

I struggled with how to rate this book. As a feminist, of course I admired Farah's portrayal of the sexist culture that oppresses women in Somalia and how a struggle against the current cultural beliefs and structures are difficult, if not impossible to break out of, for the individual.

For Ebla, the main character, every time she attempts to find freedom and independence, she further ties herself to people whom mistreat and take advantage over her. As the narrative continues, it is difficult to understand Ebla's true intentions as she struggles against these forces, and the intentions of those she finds herself depending on and using her.

I found Farah's narrative difficult to follow at times, and found the partial portrayal into Ebla's thoughts and actions frustratingly seperated from the actual core of the book's unfolding plot. I believe Farah meant to keep the reader disconnected from Ebla and the other characters to help convey Ebla's confusion as she encountered various situations and characters throughout the narrative, not knowing who she could trust or not trust, and how the intentions of each character may not be what they seem.


I came across this slim penguin classic in the library and had never heard of it but it was a fascinating read. The heroine Kabla is an 18 yaer old girl who is part of a nomadic tribe in the Somalian countryside whose life revolves around tending the cattle. When her grandfather gives her hand to a 48 year old man she runs away to a village where she goes to live with a distant cousin, his heavily pregnant wife and sevitude. The cousin then incurs a heavy financial penalty for smuggling and promises her to another man so she runs off again with a neighbours nephew to Mogadishu. The book pictures a girl who has never seen a car or a plane , cannot cook doesn't know what the police are or have any concept of a government at a time when in the late 1960's independence is coming. Perhaps most sad without parents she has no concept of sex and is the victim of sexual exploitation. A lot of the book is her internal monologue and at 180 pages it is short but an interesting picture of women in this society, the hypocrisy of men using religion and marriage as sexual power, and the innocence of the tribal members in modern society.


This is a beautifully written story, told from the point of view of a thoughtful, young somali girl-woman. The story is poignant, but stressful for the reader. This is not simply the result of caring for a mistreated protagonist, but the result of the protagonists constant and overwhelming confusion. She is not afraid to take a chance, and takes many. She seem to make these decisions in a haze, unclear about the morality of her decisions, unclear regarding their consequences. I was left hoping for her, but would not be surprised if she ultimately faced ruin as a 'fallen' woman.

Eldonfoil TH*E Whatever Champion

Fairly simplistic and less insightful than much of Farah's later work. Little insight into the mind and real thought process of a Somali village woman. Instead it feels like what it is: a Westerner (or Westernized Somalian) using Western feminism to doctor the character's mindset---a description of victimization rather than any real attempt to show what space the woman would attempt to carve out for herself beyond "escape." "I'll write the story for her."