Im Norden der Dämmerung

By Nuruddin Farah, Wolfgang Müller

710 ratings - 3.38* vote

A couple's tranquil life abroad is irrevocably transformed by the arrival of their son's widow and children, in the latest from Somalia's most celebrated novelist.For decades, Gacalo and Mugdi have lived in Oslo, where they've led a peaceful, largely assimilated life and raised two children. Their beloved son, Dhaqaneh, however, is driven by feelings of alienation to jihad A couple's tranquil life abroad is irrevocably transformed by the arrival of their son's widow and

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Book details

Kindle Edition, 0 pages
March 3rd 2020

(first published December 4th 2018)

Original Title
North of Dawn

Community Reviews


This is the first book I’ve read by this author, although I understand it’s his twelfth published novel. I was attracted by the premise. Mugdi and Gacalo are an older couple of Somali origin, living in Norway. They have adapted well to Norwegian life, as has their daughter. However, the couple also had a disaffected son, Dhaqaneh, who became an Islamist and died whilst a member of the al-Shabaab terror group. In Africa, Dhaqaneh married a woman called Waliya, who had two children from a previous marriage. Before he died, he got Gacalo to promise that if anything happened to him, she would take care of Waliya and her children, Naciim and Saafi. The trio duly arrive in Norway and have a massive impact on the lives of Mugdi and Gacalo, some of it good, some of it bad.

The book opens with a dedication to the author’s younger sister, a UN worker who was murdered by the Taliban in Kabul in 2014. He’s clearly under no illusions about the effects of terrorism.

I’ve said in other reviews that I don’t always like works of fiction where the author is too heavy handed in conveying a political message. In this novel, the fictional story is set against the background of real-life terrorist incidents, such as the Al-Qaeda attacks in Glasgow and London in June/July 2007, and the Utoya Island Massacre in 2011. I feel the author wanted to make the point that far-right terror groups and Islamist terror groups are morally equivalent and have the same motivations – basically those of in-group love and out-group hate. At one point in the novel, Mugdi tells Naciim that “When two elephants fight, the grass gets trampled.” It is ordinary, peaceable people who become the victims of both sets of extremists.

As it happens, this is a viewpoint I entirely agree with, and one that I have tried to set out myself in other reviews. That meant I found the book easy enough to read, but the author really does lay it on with a trowel. Subtlety is not his strong point.

Another issue was that I found the spoken dialogue to be very stilted and artificial. The characters frequently sounded like members of a university debating society, and the dialogue remained wooden even when the conversations moved away from politics.

Given what I’ve said so far, you’re probably wondering why I’ve rated the novel at a reasonably favourable three stars. It’s because, despite all of the above, I couldn’t help enjoying the story and identifying with the trials and tribulations of the characters. I also enjoyed the way the book highlighted the kind of adjustments required of people who move between countries like Somalia and Norway.

I thought the book had some merits, but I wouldn’t really recommend it to others.

Ron Charles

When Nuruddin Farah writes fiction about the ravages of terrorism, the details may be imaginary but the scars are real. The celebrated Somali novelist, a frequent contender for the Nobel Prize in literature, lost his sister Basra Farah Hassan in 2014. A nutritionist working for UNICEF, she was murdered, along with at least 20 others, when the Taliban bombed a restaurant in Kabul.

Farah’s new book, “North of Dawn,” places its characters far from flying shrapnel but deep in conflicted grief. Like his previous novel, “Hiding in Plain Sight,” it’s concerned with difficult questions of forgiveness and recovery in the aftermath of violence. The story opens in Oslo, when a Somali diplomat named Mugdi gets word that his only son has blown himself up at the airport in Mogadishu. Mugdi and his wife, Gacalo, suspected their son was radicalized, but news of his death makes it impossible to ignore the truth any longer: They are the parents of a suicide bomber.

Shocked and disgusted, Mugdi wants nothing to do with the memory of his late son. But his wife refuses to relinquish her love for the young man, and she’s determined to keep their parental connection alive by inviting their son’s widow and her two children to Oslo. That invitation, sent on the wings of affection and duty, ensnares Gacalo and Mugdi in a complicated kindness that will. . . .

To read the rest of this review, go to The Washington Post:


This is the story of an older Somali-Norwegian couple who take in their deceased son's wife and stepchildren, and this story follows these characters as they acclimate to Norway and their new family. This book was tough to rate because on one hand, I enjoyed the story but on the other hand, this novel was written in a way that kept me from finding a rhythm and being fully invested. The language felt convoluted in spots, the POV changed in an instant without warning, and the passage of time in the novel didn't come across as seamlessly as I'd hope. All in all, I'm glad I stuck with it, and as I said it's a good story but I can't help but think of how amazing it could be if written differently.



Where do I even begin with this book? It was a slow burn kind of family drama novel that just keeps you rooting for most of the characters. I am in awe of this, and how heartfelt this novel was when reading. You really feel what it’s like to be a refugee in a strange country that already has its own preconceived notions and suspicions about you.

I will say though, this writing style isn’t for everyone. The jump between timelines/different sections wasn’t always clear, and it did take some reconfiguring to realize what just happened. It’s not my personal favourite, but the book and the characters speak for themselves!

If you’re looking for a different view, a different story, then I highly recommend this one!

Cherise Wolas

This is the first novel I've read by Nuruddin Farah, a frequent contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature. A writer from Somalia who now lives in Cape Town, South Africa, his own sister was killed in 2014 when she was murdered along with at least 20 others when the Taliban bombed a restaurant in Kabul. Farah writes fiction about terrorism, and the ravages and scars of it. North of Dawn is about a Somali family, now longtime citizens of Norway, whose children were born and raised in Oslo. When the book opens, Mugdi and Gacalo are facing the impossible - the truth that their son was radicalized, and is a terrorist who has blown himself up. And they must now welcome their dead son's wife and her two children to Oslo, the doing of which will alter their lives. The novel is about many things: the difficulties of assimilation and/or the refusal to assimilate, Somalia's dysfunction, the clash of secular and religious values, the belief that there are two sides of the intolerance coin - isolationism and radicalism. While this is a novel, there is much nonfiction in it, about the history of Somalia, the beliefs about Islam, about Norway, the mass killing of teenagers on the island there, etc. and it is all fascinating and horrifying. A good deal of the history and beliefs takes the form of conversations between the characters, which gives it a graceless, awkward quality. It felt to me that a couple more drafts of the novel to smooth all this out would have done the book good (or been essays). But the characters are intriguing, as is the story, and I kept turning pages despite these weaknesses. I intend to read other novels by him.


This novel is overly ambitious. If Mr. Farah had limited himself to the core ideas it would have been less jumbled up at the end. The story begins with parents living in Norway learning their son, who has moved to Somalia, has killed himself in a suicide bombing. The mother has promised her son that she will provide and care for his surviving widow and her son and daughter. The parents move the dead son’s family to Oslo. There the problems begin. The step children of the dead son strive to find their way subsequent to traumatic childhoods. The entire group lives in a place where two groups, Nazi inspired vigilantes and radical jihadists, ultimately victimize those stuck in the middle. The story unfolds with realism until the author seems to lose himself in sub plots. They would have been better off saved for a separate stories. By the end I lost most of my interest. The final lines feel like the fading frequencies that were, at the start, so very strong and interesting. Perhaps that was his point.

Azita Rassi

The beginning of the book was very promising, but it didn’t deliver. I don’t know whether this book is a translation or is originally written in English, but the prose was very artificial, especially the dialogues. It was like reading a political essay instead of a novel. The characters were either good or bad, and it didn’t take you beyond a few sentences to figure out which. All the same, the story itself was an engaging one, which is why I finished the book. It deals with vital issues of our present world. I only wish the author refrained from turning certain characters into his mouthpiece and let the events and normal dialogue have their own effect. At times it felt like reading Sophie’s World, with every conversation being carefully devised to teach the reader a lesson.

I couldn’t help comparing this novel with Home Fire. They both deal with Islamophobia, jihadis, and the ensuing havoc amid the families who are torn apart by opposing ideologies and ways of life, but how different they are from one another.

Shula Ornstein

2.5 more so, but only because I enjoyed the first half. This book’s premise was really interesting and I think had a lot of potential to be good, but has basically no character development, a timeline that made no sense, switching voice throughout the story, a very heavy handed political message (and it was “extremism is bad”, which is just not very interesting). The way the religious characters were written was even more 2 dimensional than the others, and when major events happened that could’ve made them more interesting, they were totally skipped over. The dialogue was extremely stilted, although that may be a translation thing. Overall enjoyed the first have of the book which felt more like something was going to happen, but the second half was no good.


A very interesting premise, but the flat, stilted dialog and writing ruined this book for me. I can't tell if it's just a really bad translation, which could be the case, as there are constant weird, outmoded English slang and terms (for example, when have you ever heard an English speaker under the age of 100 refer to children as "tykes" ?), and the characters are always going off on strange, stilted tirades that are like annoying lectures, not normal speech. Maybe it's just a reflection of Norwegian or Somali speech patterns, but it makes reading this in English very painful, and ends up making the characters, and thus their stories, feel completely lifeless.


What happens to the citizens of a country when the country collapses and is considered a failed state? There are only so many answers, but they all center around survival and belief. Nuruddin Farah, an established Somali writer who resides in South Africa answers this in his latest book North of Dawn.

Mugdi and Gacalo, Norwegian citizens who are originally from Somalia, find they must deal with their son's death by suicide bomb in Somalia. Mugdi disowned his son when he found him to be aligned with terrorists, but Gacalo was unable to do that and instead kept in touch with her son who shortly before his death requested that if something happened to him that she bring his wife and step-children to Norway.

She does that despite Mugdi opposition and they find themselves sponsoring the three refugees:

On the drive to the airport, Mugdi brims over with sadness and not for the first time thinks of himself as a man born to grief, a Somali concerned about the death of a son or the arrival of a widow and her children when he should be sorrowing over the terminal cancer that has infected his nation. He detests Somalia’s dysfunction, unrelenting since 1991, the year the country collapsed after its clan politics had gone awry, and Mogadiscio became a killing field.

With the addition of the widow Waliya, her daughter Saafi and son Naciim we are given the characters who must adapt to their new home and new expectations and mores. Each follows a different path and their relationship with their new country and family is where the story lies.

At times in North of Dawn the reader is given so much detail, that it bogs down a bit and then unexpectedly without foreshadowing the reader is thrown a huge curveball. The writing often feels so placid, that the reader is not given the necessary emotional release.

I particularly enjoyed the characters of Mugdi and Saafi and I suspect that the author may have been more comfortable with them.

I am happy to recommend this book.