Friday, February 18, 2011

Reflection on Giving and Receiving

The book I'm reading at the moment (really, like NOW, because Wednesday's book was different), is "Gifts" by Nuruddin Farah.
Gifts is Duniya's story. She is a single mother of two (actually 3, her teen boy & girl twins, and a 9 yr old girl by husband #2) with a demanding job at the maternity hospital in war-torn Mogadiscio, in a world where she has to battle for independence and self-sufficiency. An impossible load at the hospital, the food and fuel shortages, the war, and the narrow constraints of Islamic society pin her down.
Then, just as she reluctantly gets romantically involved with the charming and wealthy Basaaso, her daughter brings home a mysterious abandoned baby boy (The Nameless One) found in a rubbish bin.
Part love story, part mystery, the plot turns on the idea of gifts and the price you pay for accepting them. Ranging from a simple cooking pot to the cargoes of foreign food-aid dumped in Somalia, and even to Duniya's gift of her sexuality, Gifts is a complex and fascinating reflection on giving and receiving, written in a surprisingly earthy, opulently lyrical style. Her honest interactions with her twins, the cultural greetings and language dances are interwoven with snippets of her whimsical, often symbolic day-dreaming. Duniya's name means "the cosmos". (I love names and their meanings!)
I haven't finished it yet, probably by tonight. There isn't a whole lot of writing coming out of Somalia, although the country's drawn me for years. With a horrifc civil war raging for more than 20 years, and a beautiful people caught in the crossfire, the world has grown tired of hearing how desperate the situation is, and having become jaded has accepted that that's what Somalia's like, and will most likely ever be. Pirates hijacking oil tankers is about it as far as news coverage goes.
I love this book's humour and foreign-ness, and the main character's intelligent thinkings.
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