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Nuruddin Farah (Somali: Nuuradiin Faarax, Arabic: نورالدين فارح‎) (born 24 November 1945) is a Somali novelist. He has also written plays both for stage and radio, as well as short stories and essays. Since leaving Somalia in the 1970s he has lived and taught in numerous countries, including the United States, England, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Sudan, India, Uganda, Nigeria and South Africa.

Nuruddin Farah
نورالدين فارح
Farah in 2010 before a lecture at Simon Fraser University.
Farah in 2010 before a lecture at
Simon Fraser University.
BornNuuradiin Faarax
(1945-11-24) 24 November 1945 (age 73)
Baidoa, Somalia
OccupationNovelist, essayist, professor
Alma materPanjab University among many
SubjectNationalism, colonialism, feminism
Notable worksFrom a Crooked Rib, Maps, Gifts, Secrets
Notable awardsKurt Tucholsky Prize, Lettre Ulysses Award, Neustadt International Prize for Literature, Premio Cavour, St. Malo Literature Festival Prize
SpouseChitra Muliyil (1982-1992)
Amina Mama (1992-)
ChildrenKoshin (born 1983)
Abyan (born 1994)
Kaahiye (born 1995)

Farah has garnered acclaim as one of the greatest contemporary writers in the world,[1] his prose having earned him accolades including the Premio Cavour in Italy, the Kurt Tucholsky Prize in Sweden, the Lettre Ulysses Award in Berlin, and in 1998, the prestigious Neustadt International Prize for Literature. In the same year, the French edition of his novel Gifts won the St Malo Literature Festival's prize.[2] In addition, Farah is a perennial nominee for the Nobel Prize in Literature.[3]

Personal lifeEdit

Nuruddin Farah was born in 1945 in Baidoa, in Italian Somaliland.[4] His father Hassan Farah was a merchant and his mother Aleeli (nėe Faduma) an oral poet.[4][5] Farah was the fourth eldest boy in a large family.[1] He hails from the Ogaden Darod clan.[6]

As a child, Farah frequented schools in Somalia and adjacent Ethiopia, attending classes in Kallafo in the Ogaden. He studied English, Arabic and Amharic. In 1963, three years after Somalia's independence, he was forced to flee the Ogaden following serious border conflicts.

From 1966 to 1970, he pursued a degree in philosophy, literature and sociology at Panjab University in Chandigarh, India,[1] where he met his first wife,[4] Chitra Muliyil Farah, with whom he had a son (the marriage later ended in divorce).[5] Farah subsequently went to England, attending London University (1974–75) and studying for a master's degree in theatre at Essex University (1975–76). His mother died in 1990, and in 1992 he married British-Nigerian academic Amina Mama and they have a son and a daughter.[4][5]

In 1990, he received a grant from the German Academic Exchange Service and moved to Berlin. In 1996, he visited Somalia for the first time in more than 20 years.[7]

Farah's sister Basra Farah Hassan, a diplomat, was killed in a bombing in January 2014 while working with the United Nations in Kabul, Afghanistan.[8]

Farah currently resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Cape Town, South Africa.[9]

Literary careerEdit

Farah at the Festivaletteratura in Mantua, September 2008.

After releasing an early short story in his native Somali language, Farah shifted to writing in English while still attending university in India. His books have been translated into 17 languages.[2]

His first novel, From a Crooked Rib (1970), told the story of a nomad girl who flees from an arranged marriage to a much older man. Published by Heinemann Educational Books (HEB) in their African Writers Series, the novel earned him mild but international acclaim. On a tour of Europe following the publication of A Naked Needle (HEB, 1976), Farah was warned that the Somali government planned to arrest him over its contents. Rather than return and face imprisonment, Farah began a self-imposed exile that would last for 22 years, during which time he taught in the United States, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Sudan, India and Nigeria.

Farah describes his purpose for writing as an attempt "to keep my country alive by writing about it", and for Nadine Gordimer he was one of the continent's "true interpreters".[4] His trilogies of novels – "Variations on the Theme of an African Dictatorship" (1980–83) and "Blood in the Sun" (1986–99) – form the core of his work. First published by Allison and Busby, "Variations" included Sweet and Sour Milk (1979), Sardines (1981) and Close Sesame (1983), and was well received in a number of countries. Farah's reputation was cemented by his most famous novel, Maps (1986), the first part of his "Blood in the Sun" trilogy. Maps, which is set during the Ogaden conflict of 1977, employs the innovative technique of second-person narration for exploring questions of cultural identity in a post-independence world. Farah followed this with Gifts (1993) and Secrets (1998), both of which earned awards. His subsequent "Past Imperfect" trilogy comprises Links (2004), Knots (2007) and Crossbones (2011). His most recent novels are Hiding in Plain Sight, published in 2014,[10] and North of Dawn (2018).

Farah is also a playwright, whose plays include work for the stage — A Dagger in Vacuum (produced Mogadiscio, 1970), The Offering (produced Colchester, Essex, 1975), Yussuf and His Brothers (produced Jos, Nigeria, 1982) — and for radio: Tartar Delight, 1980 (Germany), and A Spread of Butter.[11]

Besides literature, Farah is an important scholar within Somali Studies. He serves on the International Advisory Board of Bildhaan: An International Journal of Somali Studies, published by Macalester College.[12]

Selected awards and honoursEdit

  • 1974–76: UNESCO fellowship
  • 1980: English-Speaking Union Literary Award (for Sweet and Sour Milk)
  • 1990: Corman Artists fellowship[11]
  • 1991: Kurt Tucholsky Prize, Stockholm, Sweden[13]
  • 1993: Best Novel Award, Zimbabwe (for Gifts)[13]
  • 1994: Premio Cavour, Italy (for Italian translation of Close Sesame)[14]
  • 1998: Neustadt International Prize for Literature[13]
  • 1998: St Malo Literary Festival award (for French edition of Gifts)[13]



  • — (1970). From a Crooked Rib. African Writers; 80. London: Heinemann Educational.
  • — (1976). A Naked Needle. African Writers; 184. London: Heinemann Educational.
  • — (2000). Territoires. Paris: Serpent à Plumes.
  • — (2003). From a Crooked Rib. Reprint. Introduction by Richard Dowden. London: Penguin.
  • — (2014). Hiding in Plain Sight. New York: Riverhead Books.— (2015). Hiding in Plain Sight. 1st UK edition. London: Oneworld Publications.
  • — (2018). North of Dawn. Riverhead Books. ISBN 978-0735214231.
Variations on the Theme of an African Dictatorship trilogy
  • — (1979). Sweet and Sour Milk. London: Allison & Busby. Reprints: Heinemann (African Writers Series 226), 1980; Graywolf Press, 1992.
  • — (1981). Sardines. London: Allison & Busby. Reprints: Heinemann (African Writers Series 252), 1982; Graywolf Press, 1992.
  • — (1983). Close Sesame. London: Allison & Busby. Reprints: Graywolf Press, 1992.
Blood in the Sun trilogy
  • — (1986). Maps. London: Pan. Reprints: Arcade, 1999.
  • — (1993). Gifts. London: Serif. Reprints: Arcade, 1999; Kwela Books, 2001.
  • — (1998). Secrets. New York: Arcade.
Past Imperfect trilogy
  • — (2003). Links. Cape Town: Kwela Books. Reprints: Riverhead Books, 2004; Duckworth, 2005.
  • — (2007). Knots. New York: Riverhead Books.
  • — (2011). Crossbones. New York: Riverhead Books. Reprints: Granta, 2012.

Short fictionEdit

  • — (1965). Why Die So Soon?. Novella
  • — (22–29 December 2014). "The start of the affair". The New Yorker. 90 (41): 130–139.


  • — (1965). A Dagger in a Vacuum.


  • — (2000). Yesterday, Tomorrow: Voices from the Somali Diaspora. London: Cassell.
  • — (16 December 2013). "Nelson Mandela". The Talk of the Town. Postscript. The New Yorker. 89 (41): 26–27.
  • — (12 August 2017). "This Is What Hunger Looks Like — Again". Sunday Review. The New York Times.


  1. ^ a b c The Editors of Prentice Hall (2001). Literature Lover's Companion: The Essential Reference to the World's Greatest Writers – Past and Present, Popular and Classical. Prentice Hall Press. p. 200. ISBN 073520229X.
  2. ^ a b "Nuruddin Farah", Lettre Ulysses Award for the Art of Reportage, 2006.
  3. ^ Eldridge, Michael, "The Novels of Nuruddin Farah (review)", Africa Today, Vol. 52, Number 1, Fall 2005, pp. 141–43.
  4. ^ a b c d e Jaggi, Maya (21 September 2012). "Nuruddin Farah: a life in writing". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 September 2012.
  5. ^ a b c "Farah, Nuruddin 1945–",
  6. ^ Wright, Derek. "The Novels of Nuruddin Farah". Wardheernews. Archived from the original on 20 August 2014. Retrieved 19 August 2014. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  7. ^ The Penguin Speaker's Bureau. Penguin Group.
  8. ^ "Basra Farah, sister of Nuruddin Farah, among casualties of Kabul attack", Somalia Online, 18 January 2014.
  9. ^ Farah, Nuruddin (2012). Crossbones. Granta Books. ISBN 9781847086099. Retrieved 26 June 2014.
  10. ^ Lalami, Laila, "Nuruddin Farah’s ‘Hiding in Plain Sight’", The New York Times, 21 November 2014.
  11. ^ a b Breitinger, Eckhard, "Nuruddin Farah Biography",
  12. ^ "Bildhaan - Editorial Board". Macalester College. Retrieved 25 February 2014.
  13. ^ a b c d Wright, Derek (ed.), "Chronology", in Emerging Perspectives on Nuruddin Farah, Africa World Press, 2002 (pp. 717–20), p. 719.
  14. ^ Wright, "Chronology", Emerging Perspectives (2002), p. 718.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit