From a Crooked Rib

“From a Crooked Rib” by Nuruddin Farah (Somalia)

Synopsis and Review

“From a Crooked Rib”: And if anyone tries to straighten it, he will have to break it

Set in the months leading up to Somalia’s independence in 1960, “From a Crooked Rib” is the story of Ebla, an orphan of eighteen, who escapes from her nomadic encampment in rural Somali when she discovers that her grandfather has promised her in marriage to an older man. But even after she first arrives in town where she stays with a male cousin, and then when she elopes to Mogadiscio with her soon-to-be husband, she finds herself as powerless and dependent on men as she was in the bush. As she experiences servitude, marriage, poverty and violence, Ebla fights convincingly to retain her identity in a world where women are sold like cattle. Written from a woman’s viewpoint, Nuruddin Farah’s first novel attacks the traditional values of his people, yet it is also a haunting celebration of the unbroken human spirit.

Published in 1970, it was subsequently banned in Somalia (source: WLT World Literature Today, Vol. 80, No. 5, September-October 2006, p. 25) along with all of his works. He became a persona non grata and in the mid-70s went into exile, where he began what has become a lifelong literary project: to keep my country alive by writing about it.

Most members of the Book Club enjoyed the novel. They liked its simplicity and the portrayal of Ebla’s move from rural life to the city. They enjoyed the different scenes along her journey, which they found at times harsh and at other times colourful and funny! Some members found that the story read extremely true and that it was thought provoking. They felt it led to reflection on different aspects of how people live in the world. Since the main character is a woman, readers thought it was interesting that the author was a man. However, other readers found that Ebla was not a credible character since they felt that the author’s voice came through too clearly using her as a mouthpiece to express injustices against women in Somali society. The somewhat awkward language of Farah’s first novel compounded their lack of conviction. The book averaged 7 out of 10.

Nicola’s Book Club reading list

Season 5 – “Censorship in the 21st Century” (Feb – Jun 2007)

“Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury (U.S.) *
“The Successor” by Ismail Kadare (Albania)
“Beyond Illusions” by Duong Thu Huong (Vietnam)
“From a Crooked Rib” by Nuruddin Farah (Somalia)
“The Zahir” by Paulo Coelho (Brazil)

* The book club favourite
In italics, Nicola’s Coup de Cœur

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