Sweet and Sour Milk was published in 1979, four years after Somalian anglophone writer Nuruddin Farah was forced into exile by Siyad Barre's military regime. It is the first novel of the trilogy that also includes SARDINES and CLOSE SESAME. The overall title of the trilogy is "Variations on the Theme of an African dictatorship".
The novel is the story of two twins, Loyaan and Soyaan. Loyaan is a dentist and Soyaan occupies an official position in the country's military regime. At the beginning of the novel (in the Prologue), Soyaan dies mysteriously. Before hiccupping his last, he shouts his twin brother's name three times.
The whole novel is Loyaan's inquiry on his brother's death: who poisoned Soyaan? SWEET AND SOUR MILK is, in a way, a detective story with metaphysical and mythical undertones.
Among other things, Loyaan finds out that Soyaan was a member of a clandestine organization that aimed at overthrowing the regime. He also finds out about the fact that Soyaan had a two-year old son, Marco.
Loyaan is surrounded with supposedly friendly people, people who want to help, such as Doctor Ahmed-Wellie. Whom should he trust? Whom can he trust?
And what do his mother and sister (Qumman and Ladan) think? Why does his father, Keynaan, (a patriarch and a dictator in his own household) "breathe respectability" into Soyaan's name by saying in the national newspaper that Soyaan was a national hero and a fierce follower of the General's regime?
What does that mean? Why does Farah lead us through ambiguous pathways and seemingly clear-cut formulas? Why is there a poetical vignette at the head of each chapter and why do those vignettes sound like enigmatic allegories?
At the end of the novel, Beydan, Keynaan's second wife, dies giving birth to a child who is immediately named Soyaan by the brave and firm sister, Ladan. Is that a note of hope?
Well, read the novel and try to find answers to these questions, and to all the other enigmas that I have not mentioned.
A good book can be read five or six times in a row, from several angles and divergent points of view. Take my word for it, this in an EXCELLENT book!
Jacqueline Bardolph has written numerous articles on Nuruddin Farah. I can give you a complete list if you wish (my e-mail address is at the top of the page).
Derek Wright, THE NOVELS OF NURUDDIN FARAH, Bayreuth African Studies, #32, 1994
I have also written an extended essay devoted to the trilogy. It is called "A Study of Duality in Nuruddin Farah's Dictatorship Trilogy".