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From a Crooked Rib by Nurruddin Farah

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 marriage.

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.

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