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Somalia's Farah: Humanizing a Broken Place

Jul 5, 2007 (Morning Edition)

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Mogadishu is a place most Americans first heard of back in 1993, when two Black Hawk helicopters were downed there and 18 U.S. soldiers died in a battle with the city's warlords.

The Somali novelist Nuruddin Farah knows that city well. He also knows another Mogadishu — the city of his youth, which he remembers as a beautiful and quiet place.

Farah's novels chart the slow, nightmarish disintegration of his country into the civil war-torn place it is today.

He has lived in exile since the 1970s after taking on Somalia's powerful dictator in a novel called A Naked Needle. The author says he didn't think the book would get him into trouble.

"Now, it's a very naive kind of novel, very satirical," Farah tells Renee Montagne. "What I thought was everybody was going to laugh and simply say, 'Ho ho ho,' and then say, 'Ok, well, what next?'"

Farah was told he would be sentenced to prison or death if he returned, so he chose voluntary exile. But his native land is never far from his thoughts.

"For years and years, I have carried Somalia inside my head and heart," he says. "For years, I have turned Somalia into an obsession. And every Somali, including every single member of my family, wants to take their distance from Somalia. That is why I continue writing about Somalia. Because nobody seems to love it as much as I do."

Farah has said that he's trying to keep Somalia alive by writing about it.

"My intention is to humanize the story of the civil war, so that instead of having a book like Black Hawk Down, in which the Somali people are wooden figures, with no life really to speak of, as a novelist I would like to humanize these people — give back their humanity to them."

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