Secrets, how many of us have them? I finally finished reading the third installment of Somali author Nuruddin Farah’s Blood in the Sun trilogy. Secrets took me a lot longer than I expected, which I blame on my relatively short commute to work for not giving me enough time to read (excuses, excuses). Sorry for slacking on Now Reading, the last one I did was back in March. Not to worry though (I’m sure you were losing sleep over this ;)), I’m back on it.
Farah once wrote, I believe it was in Maps, the first book of the trilogy, that life is all about sex. I can’t recall the exact quote but that was the gist of it. Our lives are consumed by sex, thinking about it, doing it, being affected by it and on a public level, having it shoved down our throats in music videos, songs, advertisements, etc. And I can’t disagree (at the risk of sounding like a perv lol). Secrets is a great example of the consuming nature of sex in our lives. There’s a whole lotta sex in this book and all types of it: incestuous, specifically between brother and sister (to their credit, I guess, they’re half siblings but still…side eye), between humans and animals (yep, you read that right), between the young and old, between men, and rape. But all of this sex is done in typical African fashion, in absolute secrecy. It’s socially forbidden, taboo, scandalous. But for some reason, irresistible and inevitable.
Kalaman, the protagonist, is a decent guy, trying to live a decent life in Mogadishu. He has his own translation and letter writing company, an apartment, a car, a loving albeit crazy family, and a girlfriend to complete the picture. But his stable world is shaken to its core when his childhood lover suddenly reappears in Somalia, on a visit from the U.S. Sholoongo is back in her home country in search of a baby daddy and she figures Kalaman is the perfect candidate. Of course, Kalaman thinks otherwise. He wants nothing to do with her, the woman he chased during his youth, with whom he engaged in sinful acts and discovered the realm of adulthood. But now, he has outgrown her and she’s the one doing the chasing. Kalaman would rather leave her in the distant past where she belongs.
The whole story, of Kalaman discovering his origins and family secrets, is told in parallel with the collapse of the Somali state in 1991. Both stories are told side by side, progressing together and finally exploding at the same time. This explosion is Kalaman’s discovery of the deep secrets his family kept from him all of his life; this explosion is also the fall of dictator Siad Barre’s government.
Secrets was like delving into a naughty tale of fiction that you probably wouldn’t recommend to your mom. But it’s not cheap or sleazy. Though I raised my eyebrows at the many sexcapades of the characters, I know this is reality. Our parent’s generation and beyond love to preach sexual piety, purity and morality when they know the real story behind closed doors is a contradiction. African families don’t openly talk about sex. But it is this same stifling social taboo that inspires such covert activities behind locked doors and closed windows.
I found myself having to look up a lot of words during my reading (thanks Dictionary.com). Secrets is a heavily loaded text, filled with obscure (to me) words, proverbs, dreams, and anecdotes. But it makes for a diverse reading experience. The book alternates between point of views, as chapters are told through the eyes of several different characters. But by far my favorite aspect is the sprinkling of traditional Somali proverbs, loaded with experience and meaning. I leave you with this section from p. 43 (not a proverb):
Nothing remains hidden forever without losing its original identity and no secret is forever a secret: it has to be known by someone who places a value on it, no matter whether it is divulged or not.
Secrets is relate-able. We all have secrets in our lives, some that we will take with us to the grave, like Kalaman’s grandpa Nonno does in the text. Secrets that could destroy, embarrass and hurt us. This is human nature.
I’ll have another edition of Now Reading soon. I just finished reading the oh so controversial Infidel (see cover below) by Somali author, politician and activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a most polarizing and passionate woman. But more on that next week, stay tuned.