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Sweet and Sour Milk (Variations on the Theme of an African Dictatorship) [Paperback]

Nuruddin Farah
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 263 pages
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press,U.S.; Reprint edition (1 May 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1555971598
  • ISBN-13: 978-1555971595
  • Product Dimensions: 22.8 x 15.3 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 478,503 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Synopsis

In 1970s Africa, Loyaan tries to discover the reasons for his twin brother's violent death, but the repressive government smothers his efforts.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars L to the power of S ... 19 Nov 1998
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
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?
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars L to the power of S ... 19 Nov 1998
By G. Cingal (cingal@clipper.ens.fr) - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
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!
Bibliography
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".
Guillaume Cingal
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Overwrought lyricism mires novel about dictatorship and family 13 Oct 2008
By Quickhappy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Nuruddin Farah is a writer of tremendous talent. His mastery of English is sublime, as is his capacity to illustrate complex and troubling images. Alas, Farah's own talent bogs him down in this promising novel. Sweet & Sour Milk chokes on its own lyricism and craft.

Although it takes the form of a whodunnit, the novel never gains speed. Instead the narrative feels overwrought: it has the narcissism of the author, who intrudes upon his characters' every utterance. The characters speak in beautiful and speech-like fashion. Conversations feel more like a string of soliloquys than people communicating in real life.

Indeed, the esteemed New York Times Book Review wrote that Farah's trilogy "is feverishly lyrical; [he] has given us a powerful political statement that moves constantly toward song." That is high praise, and it's certainly one way to read Farah. The same song-like qualities of the book can also be its undoing.

Sweet & Sour Milk remains engrossing for its very personal study of dictatorship, and for its weaving of family and power in an unholy fabric. Physical terror and patriarchy complement eachother in a ghastly alliance. The author leaves an impressive record of a world built upon the exclusion of truth. But by the end, I longed for Farah to leave the story alone.
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