From a Crooked Rib by Nurruddin Farah

from a crooked rib

In his debut novel Nuruddin Farah turned the spotlight on the restrictions and limitations experienced by women in his native Somalia where women are considered not only inferior to men but as inherently flawed.

Woman has been created from a rib and the most crooked part of the rib is the uppermost. If you try to straighten it, you will break it.

From  a Crooked Rib is written from the viewpoint of one girl’s experience but through her, Farah shows that her predicament is one faced by many of his countrywomen. Ebla is an uneducated eighteen year old orphan who runs way from her nomadic settlement when she discovers her grandfather has promised her in marriage to an old man.  She hopes to make a new life for herself with a distant cousin and his wife in the city of  Mogadishu, but her inexperience and naivety make her ill equipped to deal with the reality of city life. She has never seen a plane or a car, has no idea what a policeman is and doesn’t know how to cook. Instead of enjoying an independent life, she is effectively sold in marriage by her cousin, then experiences sexual violence, poverty and a sham marraige.

Reflecting on her life, Ebla sees that she has simply swapped one form of servitude for another and is as powerless and dependent on men as she was in her desert home. She and other women are merely chattels in the eyes of the men, theirs to be “sold like cattle.”

In a short text of just 180 pages Farah challenges many of the preconceived and traditional values of his society. It’s a powerful story told through a character whose innocence and resilience engage our sympathy. As a work of fiction it has a number of flaws. The writing style for example often feels belaboured and sometimes the narrative seems to leave out critical pieces of information so we’re not entirely sure what is happening. But the importance of this work lies more in the subject matter than the way the story is told. In 1970 Farah dared to bring to attention and to question long held beliefs in the need for subjugation of women and practices like arranged marriage and female circumcision. From a Crooked Rib is not a book I will want to reread but it provided a fresh perspective on an issue I knew little about.


About this author

Nuruddin Farah (Somali: Nuuradiin Faarax, Arabic: نور الدين فرح‎) is a prominent Somali novelist. He was awarded the 1998 Neustadt International Prize for Literature.

About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on August 26, 2014, in Africa, Book Reviews, Somalia, world literature. Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. I heard this was quite frustrating from other readers. Hmm, I recently purchased his novel ‘Hiding in Plain Sight’ and it will be my 1st book from Somalia. I hope I like it…
    Thanks for this review!

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  2. We have a large Somali immigrant community in Minneapolis and at first I thought, oh, I’ll have to read this, but now I think it might not be so very relevant to the community here. And I’m not so sure I’d be able to get past the belabored writing style.

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  3. momssmallvictories

    So glad to have you join our Travel the World in Books Readathon. This sounds like a powerful read and a good recommendation to read for Somalia.

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  4. I’m planning to read a Nuruddin Farah book for Somalia. Probably Maps, his most famous. But I find it interesting that you describe his writing style as belabored. I started reading one of his more recent books, but I put it down for just that reason. I felt like, “Okay, I get it already, this woman doesn’t like this guy. Can we move on now?”. But looking on Goodreads, the one I was reading (Knots) is Farah’s lowest rated book, so I’m hoping that Maps will be better.

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    • I was thinking of reading one of his later books thinking his style might have matured but it doesn’t seem that’s the case. Oh well, I shall have to see if there’s any other writer from Somalia.

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      • I don’t know what definition you choose for being from a country, but I have Black Mamba Boy by Nadifa Mohamed on my bookshelf, waiting to be read. She was born in Somalia, but left at a fairly young age.

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        • I’m fairly liberal in my definition because it’s hard to find things in translation otherwise. I will take a look at Mohamed – thanks for the suggestion

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