Crossbones

Farah, Nuruddin. Crossbones. Riverhead. Sept. 2011. 400p. ISBN 9781594488160. $27.95. F


Farah is a special writer, the first I’ve encountered who effectively translates between my suburban white American world and the African one. As such, Farah is able to highlight those cultural trappings that don’t mean a thing in Africa, but that American eyes are drawn to, like how bedraggled a man’s beard is or how tightly his clothing fits. The book is also a soothing, exotic read, with vivid language that pours as smoothly as water from a deep, clear well. The plot follows a freelance journalist named Malik, who is Somali by birth but was raised in Malaysia and now lives in America. Malik journeys to his “homeland” of Somalia, seeking stories for articles. Though he is experienced in dangerous locales, he doesn’t know wtf he’s doing when it comes to Somalia, so his father-in-law, Jeeblah, goes with him as shepherd. All sorts of wackiness ensues, but a multicultural version of The Hangover this ain’t. Character interactions reveal culture clashes of all conceivable stripes among the country’s political and tribal factions, and Farah conveys them all through a remarkably clear lens. “After all,” he concludes, “every resident of this city is guilty, even if no one admits to being a culprit.” Images are precise yet leave all to a reader’s imagination. Thus, a balcony isn’t given specific dimensions, but is “large enough for a sumptuous party,” and a jeep becomes a “four wheel drive.” A pleasure.

This review appeared in Books for Dudes at Library Journal on August 4, 2011. The galley was shredded on May 13, 2012.

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