A nation of narratives: Soomaalinimo and the Somali novel

Keywords: Nuruddin Farah, Igiaba Scego, Ubax Cristina Ali Farah, Nadifa Mohamed, Shirin Ramzanali Fazel, Somali literature, diasporic literature


It is already obvious that the 21st century will be one characterized by massive migrations which will see the growth and consolidation of diasporic communities separated by the political and linguistic borders of their adopted countries and the rise of transnational diasporic nation hoods and cultural networks. If literature is a mirror of culture, literary scholars have to adapt to changed conditions and assume a transnational perspective on their field in order for their work to remain relevant. While verbal art in the Somali language has been dominated by a rich tradition of oral poetry, the Somali novel has arisen in exile in a variety of languages most notably Italian and English. Writers of the Somali diaspora living all over the world have produced a rich literature in the form of novels that record the history of the Somali people in their native land and in exile. This article focuses on novels written in English and Italian by Somali writers such as Nuruddin Farah, Nadifa Mohamed, Ubax Ali Cristina Farah, Igiaba Scego and Shirin Ramzanali Fazel. My contention is that these writers should be read together from a comparative standpoint as a transnational and translinguistic Somali novelistic tradition. Ultimately my contention is that Somalia is a nation that continues to exist in the imagination of its sizeable global diaspora and that this imagined nation is written into existence in the novels of these exiles regardless of language they have adopted for their literary production. I enlist the concept of Soomaalinimo, or Somaliness, as a framework within which to draw together the novelistic production of these diasporic writers. I trace what I argue to be a pair of literary manifestations of Soomaalinimo common to the works of the above-mentioned Somali novelists both of which operate to record, recuperate and valorize alternative perspectives on Somalia and its culture to the one which dominates the global imaginary. These manifestations come in the form of a conscious textual indebtedness to the oral poetic traditions of Somalia which all of these writers weave into their novelistic prose and in the form of lyrical accounts of Somali landscapes and material culture.

Author Biography

Christopher Fotheringham, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

Christopher Fotheringham is affiliated with the Department of Translation and Interpreting, School of Literature Language and Media, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.


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How to Cite
Fotheringham, C. (2020). A nation of narratives: Soomaalinimo and the Somali novel . Tydskrif Vir Letterkunde, 57(1), 56-66. https://doi.org/10.17159/2309-9070/tvl.v.57i1.8061
Research articles