Returning to Somalia twenty years after he was imprisoned and then sent into exile, Jeebleh arrives at a remote Mogadiscio airport now under the control of a major warlord. He has arrived from his adopted home in America to help his oldest friend Bile, affiliated with a warlord in the south of the city, find and rescue his kidnapped niece and a friend. Because he belongs to the same clan as the warlord in the north, Jeebleh may be in a particularly good position to help if the child has been taken by a rival. The political situation is so tangled, however, that at times no one really knows who is allied with whom. "Here," someone says, "we don't think of 'friends' anymore. We rely on our clansmen...sharing ancestral blood."
It is not accidental that Jeebleh has received his doctorate for his book on Dante's Inferno, the symbolic parallel for the existentialist nightmare we see in Somalia. "We are at best good badmen or bad badmen," a Somali tells him as he tries to navigate the minefield of loyalties in Mogadiscio and stay alive. As Jeebleh tries to figure out whether his friend Bile is one of the "good badmen" or "bad badmen" and whether Bile's half-brother in the north is involved in the kidnapping, we learn about his family background, Somali culture and history, and the mysterious associates of various warlords who want to "help" Jeebleh. The novel is filled with high tension as various characters, including Jeebleh, are pulled in different directions by circumstances over which they have no control. His enigmatic dreams and nightmares are much like the reality of life in Mogadiscio, where the crows and vultures are now tame because they are so well fed by the violence.
Author Farah's own background as an exiled Somali makes this novel particularly vivid, and the cultural conflicts and the pressures placed on Jeebleh's family loyalties ring with truth. As he represses his American values and makes some major decisions as a Somali, Jeebleh becomes part of the story of Somalia, "I've taken sides and made choices that may put my life in danger." Stressing that it is "only when there is harmony within the smaller unit," i.e., the family, that "the larger community finds comfort in the idea of the nation," Farah creates a taut novel in which the tensions within the family are a microcosm of the tensions within the country. Realistic in its descriptions and allegorical in its implications, Farah's novel is a breathtaking and sophisticated study of violence and betrayal certain to receive international recognition. Mary Whipple
on 18 September 2007
"Links" reveals the thoughts and feelings of Weatern educated men struggling to make sense of the city of Mogadishu, in Somalia during the 1990s. The main theme of the book is the question "how ought one behave?" The plot is a search for two little girls who have been kidnapped. The girls and their innocent friendship serve as symbols of hope in a horrific, ghastly world.
The only flaw is that the writing style seems slightly overblown for my tastes, trying too hard to place the book in the literature category.
on 22 July 2005
LINKS is a brilliantly written work that introduces and familiarizes us to the intriguing nation called Somalia. We are taken into the depth of Somali culture, the complex nature of its society and suffocating grip of its history. The characters we encounter are full of life and vitality, manifesting good and evil in their different ways and situations. I enjoyed the story and came out of it having a better understanding of Somalia. Triple Agent Double Cross, Disgrace, A Continent for the Taking, Disciples of Fortune, are also books about Africa that I consider as recommended read.