by Farah Nurruddin
1986 / 288 pages
rating – 8.5

I really wish I knew more about the history of Somalia in order to make more allegorical  sense of Farah Nurruddin’s novel “Maps,” a part of his Blood in the Sun trilogy.

Askar Cali-Xamari’s father died fighting for the independence of his area of Somalia,  the day before Askar was born. These events  occurred in the Somali-Ethiopian conflict of 1977. His mother died during or very shortly after childbirth. So Askar was found tiny snd alone, apparently conscious of being, exploring his body and staring by a woman named Misra, his aunt. Misra became Askar’s surrogate mother and kept him until he went away to school. During these years she kept him very close, holding him, sleeping with him, sharing all with him to the effect that his self-identity was in question.  The problem is that the young Askar wants, needs, to be a man because there is a war going on in which his father died a hero. And there’s also the troubling fact that Misra is ethnically Ethiopian.

Another important character is his father’s brother, Uncle Qorrax, who, along with Aw-Adan, a priest, helps raise Askar, abuses Misra and sends Askar away to school. Askar wants to be a man and help his fellow Somalis but now he’s only 14-years old, living abroad and feeling guilty about eating spaghetti.

But he returns – and I got really involved with the story at about 130 pages, almost half-way, when everything kind of gelled very powerfully.

The story is mostly told from a third person point of view except several sections are either told by an unnamed first person speaking to Askar as “You” and telling him of his early life, or it’s Askar talking to himself.  Sometimes Askar is the first person for awhile but the narrative is basically told in third person.

in the “Interlude.”  Askar is even telling himself how to tell the story! lol

Sample of the unnamed narrator addressing Askar as “you:”

“The joy of travel, you said to yourself, there is nothing like it. The joy of open spaces, that’s divinity itself. And for a few minutes, your mind dwelled on guilt and on loss, yes, your mind spoke to itself of the fact that Misra wasn’t going with you to Mogadiscio.”

It goes on like that for awhile Askar talking to himself – (1977-78)

Theme of identity explored through the ideas of nationality, ethnicity, colonialism, names, language along with sex, gender and love. Then there is the matter of material truth and dreams and, of course, the maps.

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