A gripping new novel from today's "most important African novelist". (The New York Times Review of Books)

A dozen years after his last visit, Jeebleh returns to his beloved Mogadiscio to see old friends. He is accompanied by his son-in-law, Malik, a journalist intent on covering the region's ongoing turmoil. What greets them at first is not the chaos Jeebleh remembers, however, but an eerie calm enforced by ubiquitous white-robed figures ...

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Crossbones: A Novel

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A gripping new novel from today's "most important African novelist". (The New York Times Review of Books)

A dozen years after his last visit, Jeebleh returns to his beloved Mogadiscio to see old friends. He is accompanied by his son-in-law, Malik, a journalist intent on covering the region's ongoing turmoil. What greets them at first is not the chaos Jeebleh remembers, however, but an eerie calm enforced by ubiquitous white-robed figures bearing whips.

Meanwhile, Malik's brother, Ahl, has arrived in Puntland, the region notorious as a pirates' base. Ahl is searching for his stepson, Taxliil, who has vanished from Minneapolis, apparently recruited by an imam allied to Somalia's rising religious insurgency. The brothers' efforts draw them closer to Taxliil and deeper into the fabric of the country, even as Somalis brace themselves for an Ethiopian invasion. Jeebleh leaves Mogadiscio only a few hours before the borders are breached and raids descend from land and sea. As the uneasy quiet shatters and the city turns into a battle zone, the brothers experience firsthand the derailments of war.

Completing the trilogy that began with Links and Knots, Crossbones is a fascinating look at individuals caught in the maw of zealotry, profiteering, and political conflict, by one of our most highly acclaimed international writers.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Somali-born Farah (Knots) completes his Past Imperfect trilogy with an insightful portrait of his African country imploding so furiously that neither well-educated citizens nor well-meaning exiles who return can alter the trajectory. Farah's novel centers on the visit to Mogadiscio of Jeebleh, a Somali-born Minnesota literature professor traveling with his journalist son-in-law, Malik. Ahl, Malik's older brother, comes too, fearing he'll find his runaway stepson in a region known for youthful pirates. Giving a human dimension to the tragedy of a failed nation-state, Farah interweaves points of view, the most chilling being that of a boy called YoungThing sent on a murderous mission by the Shabaab, one of several political-religious factions jockeying for control. Though YoungThing gets lost along the way, he doggedly persists, determined to complete his mission. Layer by layer, the novel digs into its sad subject as Malik conducts interviews, Ahl hunts rumors, and Jeebleh reconnects with old friends. Farah has become the voice of the Somalian diaspora, telling stories of political, religious, and family conflict without sentimentality. He sheds light on current events, but is a portraitist, not a polemicist. He shows independent women and well-meaning Americans caught in Somalia's implacable cycle of tyranny, destruction, and revenge. Like Conrad, Farah proves a master of his adopted language, enhancing his narratives with proverbs and instances of institutionalized irrationality. (Sept.)
[Farah] writes beautifully and prolifically about his native Somalia.
The Philadelphia Inquirer
Often reads like a taut, tense thriller . . . a thought-provoking read as well as an absorbing look into a culture and a people in extreme circumstances.
The Daily Beast
Often reads like a taut, tense thriller . . . a thought-provoking read as well as an absorbing look into a culture and a people in extreme circumstances.
The New York Times Book Review
This timely book . . . is politically courageous and often gripping . . . Crossbones provides a sophisticated introduction to present-day Somalia, and to the circle of poverty and violence that continues to blight the country.
Library Journal
Accompanied by his son-in-law Malik, Jeebleh arrives in Mogadishu, Somalia, from New York to visit ailing friend Bile, like him a former political prisoner. Jeebleh had left his homeland for the United States, while Bile stayed on with his companion, Cambara, valiantly hoping to effect change from within. Through their connections, journalist Malik sets up interviews, intending to report on pirating in Somalia's coastal waters. Malik's brother Ahl is also in Somalia, seeking to rescue his son, a naive, malleable teen who's been recruited for jihad by an imam in Minneapolis. As the brothers try to navigate a complex network of alliances, readers gain insight into a once beautiful land devastated by civil war, invasions, and the plundering of its natural resources by foreign nations. Secularists, warlords, and fundamentalists vie for control as ordinary citizens suffer from living where life is cheap and death waits around every corner. VERDICT Internationally acclaimed author Farah has written a heartbreaking yet clear-eyed novel of the Somalian Diaspora. Part of the "Past Imperfect" trilogy, which includes Links and Knots, it can stand alone, but avid readers will feel compelled to check out the previous works. Especially recommended for those who prefer to absorb history through fiction. [See Prepub Alert, 3/7/11.]—Sally Bissell, Lee Cty. Lib., Ft. Myers, FL
Kirkus Reviews

A freelance journalist and his brother get caught up in a geopolitical hornet's nest when they travel to their ancestral land of Somalia.

A seasoned war correspondent based in New York City, Malik knows a thing or two about global hot spots. But even with stints in the Congo and Afghanistan under his belt, nothing prepares him for the surreal experience of landing in Mogadiscio, home to human traffickers and pirates alike. Fortunately, he is not alone. His Somali-born father-in-law, Jeebleh, has accompanied him, hoping to smooth the younger man's way, and introduce him to some locals who will help him find sources for his stories, and keep him safe.Through Jeeblah he meets Bile, an ailing physician who, like Jeeblah, served time in jail as a political dissident. Bile lives with his much younger lover, Cambara, a situation that has not gone unnoticed by the ostensibly pious Union of Islamic Courts. Meanwhile, Malik's bother Ahl has flown to the autonomous Somali state of Puntland to track down his teenage stepson Taxliil, who ran away from his Minnesota home with some other boys to join the Shabaab group of Islamic fighters. Desperate to bring the kid home before he martyrs himself, Ahl pleads with Malik to interview a dangerous local kingpin in hopes of gleaning info on Taxliil's whereabouts. Risking his life, and those of the people around him, Malik discovers the symbiotic relationship between pirates and Islamic extremists, as well as the surprising origins of the piracy epidemic. Things get riskier still when U.S.-backed Ethiopian forces invade in an attempt to drive out the Islamist leadership. Harrowing without resorting to sensationalism, this highly topical final volume in Farah's Past Imperfect trilogy (Knots, 2007, etc.) should burnish his well-deserved reputation. It is dense, complex stuff, but his brave and imperfect characters are a pleasure to follow.

Gripping but utterly humane thriller set in one of the least-understood regions on earth.

Hirsh Sawhney
…politically courageous and often gripping…Crossbones provides a sophisticated introduction to present-day Somalia, and to the circle of poverty and violence that continues to blight the country.
—The New York Times Book Review
The Barnes & Noble Review

Most Americans, if they think of Somalia at all, know it only from Black Hawk Down, the 2001 film adaptation of Mark Bowden's 1999 account of the bloody Battle of Mogadishu. Tragic though those events were, they represent a mere sliver of the decades of internal strife that have left Somalia one of the poorest and most violent countries in the world. Moving from Communist rule to dictatorship to civil war, there has been no functioning central government for twenty years. Warlords and clan factions have given way to militant Islam, and pirates terrorize the coastal waters. "That unfortunate country, cursed with those dreadful clanspeople, forever killing one another and everyone around them," is one of Nuruddin Farah's character's bleak précis. It's to this unpromisingly harrowing milieu that Farah has tirelessly devoted himself for eleven novels that paint a more nuanced picture of the country's woes than one is likely to find on CNN.

Farah, who departed Somalia in 1976 and now divides his time between Cape Town and Minnesota, has devoted three trilogies to his homeland, and Crossbones is the culminating volume of his Past Imperfect trilogy, which began with Links (2003) and continued with Knots (2007). Although several of its characters appear in the preceding books, Crossbones can be read on its own.

Crossbones is set against another violent chapter in Somalia's history, the 2006 civil war in which Ethiopia invaded to support the Transitional Federal Government in its power struggle against the Islamists. Against this backdrop, two brothers enter the country on separate but intertwined missions. Malik, a New York- based freelance journalist of Somali parentage, makes his first trip to the country in the hope of reporting on the burgeoning conflict. At the same time, his brother Ahl has come from Minnesota to try to locate his stepson, who has disappeared and is rumored to be training as a suicide bomber.

It's the latest of fate's cruel iterations for Somalia that the country has moved from the control of warlords into the hands of the Islamic Court Union. The uniforms may have changed — "most of the youths have grown beards and donned those white robes" — but the "general collapse is still the same, though: houses with their insides caved in, with a Lego-like look to them?"

Malik's and Ahl's parallel narratives unfold against this blasted, damaged landscape, as they are aided by friends, relatives, and the ubiquitous fixers. Farah explores the disintegration of his country in painful detail. The influence of the West is one of several recurrent themes: The book's opening image is of a Yankees cap atop the head of a young militant; almost 400 pages later, Ahl's stepson will be seen sporting a Lakers cap. Farah also spends a considerable portion of his novel unpacking the intricacies of the ongoing power struggle and clan loyalties, as well as the origins of Somali pirates, who first took to the seas to try to prevent illegal fishing in the area.

All of this is fascinating, often chilling, sometimes moving, but Farah has devoted long tracts of both narrative and dialogue to these explorations, which end up feeling more like reportage than lived experience. Characters are forced to give lengthy expository speeches that, though they paint a vivid picture of the country, form a less well defined image of those speaking them. An example:

Bosaso's current disorderliness has as much to do with the beleaguered nature of a city in a siege as it does with the undeveloped state of the economy, the overwhelming poverty, and the dysfunction of the autonomous state. The city is home to a large influx of migrants from Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Tanzania, all wanting to brave the seas in flimsy boats to Yemen and Europe, courtesy of the human traffickers who get paid to exploit their stowaways.
Too many of the people we meet in Crossbones talk this way, and so we know the country far better than we know the characters moving through the story.

Despite this, the power of Crossbones is undeniable. Violence, death, and grief stalk the novel and its characters as they infect Somalia itself, and they remain heartbreakingly topical. Shortly after this book was published, a suicide bombing by al- Shabaab, an offshoot of the ICU, left between 60 and 100 dead, many of them students. But days later, thousands of residents of Mogadishu came out to protest the attacks, the largest demonstration seen in years. If the Arab Spring is making its way to Somalia, we can expect to find Nuruddin Farah standing ready to chronicle this latest chapter for us and to bring his readers back, as Malik says, to "a place to which I have never been before."

Mark Sarvas, author of Harry, Revised, is at work on his second novel.

Reviewer: Mark Sarvas

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594488160
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/1/2011
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 1,082,945
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Nurudin Farah is the author of nine novels, including From a Crooked Rib, Links and his Blood in the Sun trilogy: Maps, Gifts, and Secrets. His novels have been translated into seventeen languages and have won numerous awards. Farah was named the 1998 laureate of the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, "widely regarded as the most prestigious international literary award after the Nobel" (The New York Times). Born in Baidoa, Somalia, he now lives in Cape Town, South Africa, with his wife and their children.

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