Hiding in Plain Sight: A Review
Title: Hiding in Plain Sight
Author: Nuruddin Farah
Publisher: Penguin Books
‘’Their relationship …like a rug: beautiful when purchased but gone threadbare over timer.’’
Nuruddin Farah’s latest novel, Hiding in Plain Sight is primarily about family, freedom, and loyalty. While his previous novels have dealt with violence and poverty in Somali’s war torn landscape, his latest work is an exploration of those human ideals that are common to the human experience. It speaks of identity and explores the tensions between freedom and obligation, the ways in which gender and sexual preference define us, and the unexpected paths by which the political disrupts the personal.
Aar has a dream, and thus the novel begins. This symbolic dream introduces us to two main characters: Bella, Aar’s sister, and Valerie, his former wife. This fleeting introduction foreshadows the responses we will have to both of them, for Bella is an independent photographer and a responsible sister with a strong sense of obligation and loyalty while Valerie is portrayed as vain and irresponsible.
Aar, a UN official living in Mogadishu, is killed in a terrorist attack soon after. This jarring event sets in motion the drama that unfolds for the remainder of the novel. Although Aar’s existence is limited to only the first few pages, his death casts a shadow that none of the characters can run away from.
Bella, who is a renowned photographer in Rome, comes to Nairobi to look after her brother’s two children, Dahaba and Salif.However, Valerie who had opened a restaurant in Pondicherry with her lover Podmini, is determined to renew the fragile relationship she has with her children. After a decade long absence, they are reluctant to respond to her affection. Vain and sometimes prone to act in an immature manner, Valerie’s character sometimes reads like a stock caricature of a villain.
In reading Hiding in Plain Sight one gets that the novel is also about displacement, ether physical or emotional in nature. Aar is a lone figure, separated from both his wife and family. He often does not feel secure in his native Somalia and lives in a high security apartment complex conveniently built next to an airport. His fears are grounded in the reality of living in a country besieged by war, and ultimately he falls victim to its violence.
Bella lives in Italy and her life is characterised by constant movement. She keeps three lovers in three continents and is not rooted to any one place in particular. Although she wrestles with the thought of abandoning her jet-setting lifestyle to take care of her brother’s children, she finds solace in this new role that also brings with it a sense of stability.
Valerie navigates three continents, having been born in England, but has lived in both Kenya and India.
Padmini’s family was also displaced from their land in Uganda and her efforts to get it back lands her and Valerie in jail.
Hiding in Plain Sight therefore speaks to the realities of a globalised world, where movement is faster, violence deadly, emotional connections fleeting and identity is often complex.
Farah lives to that lofty achievement of being described as Somalia’s literary emissary. This latest work attests to why he has been considered for the Nobel Prize numerous times. His twelfth novel in a career spanning four decades, he still manages to confront topical issues in a fast changing world.
Written in beautiful and engaging prose, Hiding in Plain Sight seeks to illuminate a country and culture that might have otherwise remained hidden in the fog of war.
– by Winnie Ochieng’