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Reading ‘Crossbones’ in Mogadishu

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The book: Crossbones, Nuruddin Farah

The place: Mogadishu

I’ve talked before about the need to limit Somalia reading while actually in Somalia, on the basis that there’s only so much Somalia a person can take at any one time, so I am reading this in bits, in the way that one would sip very hot coffee. It’s rather wonderful, though, to see glimpses of the city I am coming to know through Farah’s writing, which is a touching mix of lyrical and expositional: there are certain sections where the reader just knows that he desperately wanted to include a particularly fascinating piece of information he read in a report, and has just wedged it into the narrative as best he can. (That is not meant to be a criticism – I think it works, though someone less invested in Somalia may disagree.) Farah has a level of precision in his writing that I really enjoy, too: early on in the book there’s a small scene where one of the characters picks up a bird that has blundered into the house and sets it loose, and it is beautifully and minutely described.

(I did finish James Fergusson’s The World’s Most Dangerous Place, incidentally, and found it broadly excellent. If you are in need of a background to Somalia that is well-researched and engagingly-written, this may be the book for you!)


We missed the lunar eclipse on this side of the world, but we did have a gorgeous fat orange moon last night. I have only seen a lunar eclipse once, in June 2011 when I was working in Kuajok, South Sudan; when it began, I was oblivious in my tent, watching Breaking Bad on my laptop with my headphones on, so I had no idea what my friend M. was talking about when he came to the door of the tent and told me not to be “fearing”. It was only when I took my headphones off that I realised that there was a genuine cacophony of gunshots coming from every directions – cracks and pops and throaty booms of RPGs. “They are shooting at the moon,” M. explained, “to make it come back,” and we stood outside and watched while a shadow slowly bit into the misty moon.* It remains one of my all-time favourite memories of South Sudan: a real demonstration of distance and difference.


(The moon, from Tonj North County, Warrap State, South Sudan, in December 2011. Not actually anything to do with an eclipse.)

*In hindsight unwise, as what goes up must come down, bullets very much included.


Written by Jess

October 9, 2014 at 7:24 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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