When Cambara, the 6-foot-tall woman at the center of "Knots," returns
after almost two decades’ absence to Mogadishu, her native city, the Somali
capital is all but unrecognizable to her: The continuing civil war has smashed
whole neighborhoods to pieces, roving bands of men and boys armed with AK-47’s
daily terrorize the city’s inhabitants, and, because of the recent extremist
rulings of fundamentalist Islamic courts, theaters, bars and many art forms are
outlawed, and women must fully veil themselves in public.
Why would Cambara, who has long enjoyed a comfortable, independent life as
a makeup studio owner and actress in Toronto, risk her safety to return to such
a place? This question propels the ambitious, viscerally detailed but slightly
overdetermined 10th novel of Nuruddin Farah, a Somali writer now living in
South Africa. His previous works — noted for their feminist and secular
humanist bents — have earned him buzz as a possible candidate for the Nobel
Prize in literature.