Born in 1945 in Baidoa, Somalia, Nurrudin Farah is recognized as one of Africa’s most influential authors. Farah grew up in Kallafo, in the Somali-speaking Ogaden region of Ethiopia. He graduated from Punjab University in Chandigarh, India in 1970, and later attended the University of London and University of Essex, where he studied theatre.
Farah fled his homeland Somalia in 1991, shortly before the fall of the country’s dictatorship. He has lived in many countries over the years, including Nigeria, Uganda, The Gambia, Sudan, South Africa, Germany, and the USA. He speaks several languages, including Somali, Amharic, Italian, Arabic, and English.
A distinguished writer and academic, Farah has taught at several major international institutions. He was associate professor at the University of Ibadan in Jos, Nigeria and also taught at the University of Bayreauth in Germany.
Farah published his first novel, “From a Crooked Rib in 1970”, and has since written several novels, short stories, films and plays. His works have been translated into many different languages. His major works are two trilogies, “Variations on the Theme of an African Dictatorship, and “Blood in the Sun”. The former comprises three titles, Sweet and Sour Milk, Sardines, and Close Sesame. Maps, Gifts, and Secrets make up the second trilogy.
In “In Praise of Exile”, an essay he wrote in 1998, Farah describes his work thus:
“My novels are about states of exile; about women shivering in the cruel cold in a world ruled by men; about the commoner denied justice; about a torturer tortured by guilt, his own conscience; about a traitor betrayed.”
Much of Farah’s writing focuses on the plight of women, the corruption among elites, and politics in Somalia, particularly under the regime of Siyad Barre.
The nomadic Farah believes his writing has thrived as a result of his leaving his homeland. In a 2007 interview at the Commonwealth Club of Carlifornia, he said, “I would say there have been many more benefits being away from Somalia than disadvantages… the most important of which consists of the fact that if I had lived on in Somalia, I don’t think my mother, my parents, my brothers and sisters would have allowed me to write the way I did..”
Farah argues that distance distils and that being away from Somalia has helped him be a better writer on Somalia, “When you move away from the spot on the ground you are standing on, you can see it better,” he says.
Over his career, Farah has received numerous honors. He was awarded the Tucholsky Prize for work as a literary exile in Stockholm, Sweden. In 1998, he received the Neustadt International Prize for Literature for his book, “Maps”, which was also named one of the best 100 African books of the 20th century.
Selected Books by Nurrudin Farah
A Naked Needle (1976)
Sweet and Sour Milk (Farah, Nuruddin, Variations on the Theme of An African Dictatorship.) (1979)
Close Sesame: A Novel (Farah, Nuruddin, Variations on the Theme of An African Dictatorship.) (1983)
From a Crooked Rib (2006)