Secrets, Farah's 8th novel and the first one of his I've read, is in many ways a fascinating work - but also a frustrating one. It's a family drama set against the backdrop of the collapse of Somalia in the early 90. 30-something Kalaman is living a modern life as a computer programmer in Mogadishu, when suddenly his childhood crush Sholoongo comes back to Somalia from exile in the US to demand that he make her pregnant. He won't have to raise the child; as a much-repeated saying goes, a mother is everything, a father is nothing. And her arrival becomes the catalyst that makes all the old family secrets come bubbling to the surface as Kalaman starts questioning his parents and grandfather about his history while the country they live in starts falling apart.
Farah is a poet at heart, and his prose is beautiful even when dealing with violent subjects; multi-layered, mixing dreams and harsh reality, with enough clever little clues and symbolism to make it something more than just a standard soap opera. One thing that strikes me is the way he seems to strive to capture - without getting too obvious - a purely Somalian perspective, as opposed to a general African or post-colonial one; there are roots here reaching back past the 20th century, past Islam, back into ancient times; the Italians and the Brits might not be blameless, but the fault of the impending anarchy still lies with people's inability to stop using each other against each other. And while one may wonder whether the long-exiled Farah paints a perfectly realistic picture of Somalia (especially when it comes to sexual habits - at times, he makes this muslim country sound like a free love festival) it's still one of those novels that manages quite well to have personal issues mirror the political ones.
Still, that's not necessarily enough to carry a 330-page novel. Secrets doesn't keep its secrets as well as it might have - and by "well", I mean the thing you go to until the bucket breaks. While Farah makes good use of POV shifts to tell the same story from different angles and gradually uncover Kalaman's family's secrets, setting the story up in the first half and then slowly tying it all together in the second, the final pay-off simply isn't rewarding enough to justify the way he drags it out. The novel tends to plod, veering off into long monologues that sound too rehearsed, too constructed to really draw you in and care what happens; just makes you wish he'd get to the point already.
Still, there's great stuff in this requiem for a country. You may have to work a little at it, but it's there. sounds about right.