Derek Wright


Nuruddin Farah has never been one of those African writers who have looked to the traditional past for refuge and sanctuary from the evils of the post-colonial era and his fiction has been slow to recognize the positive strengths and reconstructive potential of traditional cultural values and modes of expression. Certainly, he has not conceived the latter as unsullied alternatives and possible modes of counter-discourse to the corruption, political tyranny and neo-imperialism which have overtaken his native Somalia since Syad Barre's Soviet-backed coup of 1969. Rather, the traditional forms have been implicated in the new trials and terrors of the independent state. In Sweet and Sour Milk, the first novel of the trilogy Variations on the Theme of an African Dictatorship, the repressive surveillance techniques and police terror of the General's military dictatorship thrive on the predominantly oral techniques of a still largely illiterate society, so that the oral tradition is effectively allied with the reactionary forces of tribal authoritarianism and obscurantism, and it is not until the Dulman episode of Sardines that the revolutionary possibilities of the oral mode are really explored. Moreover, throughout the trilogy the new political totalitarianism which post-revolutionary Somalia has drifteà:^into is revealed to be but the old patriarchal (and matriarchal) despotism of the Somali family writ large, and the General is seen to answer to, and to represent something authentic in, Somali life. The collusion of family and state authoritarianism, and of domestic and political patriarchy, have become commonplaces of Farah's fiction.



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