What does it mean to be a Somali in this day and age…particularly a Somali in Kenya? There may be no better author to answer that question than Somali-born Nuruddin Farah, in the book Hiding in Plain Sight (Buy here), who provides an insight glimpse of a Somali photographer who must decide between freedom and family.
Beginning with an act of violence — a man named Aar is killed in a terrorist bombing in his United Nations office in Mogadiscio (Farah’s spelling) — but the book then veers from the event to show us the impact of that single brutal act on Aar’s loved ones. Let’s get started, shall we?
Aar’s sudden death throws everyone into a tailspin. When his grief-stricken sister Bella learns of the murder of her beloved half brother by political extremists in Mogadiscio, she’s in Rome. The two had different fathers but shared a Somali mother, from whom Bella’s inherited her freewheeling ways. An internationally known fashion photographer, dazzling but aloof, she comes and goes as she pleases, juggling three lovers. But with her teenage niece (Dahaba)and nephew (Salif)effectively orphaned – their mother abandoned them years ago—she feels an unfamiliar surge of protective feeling. Putting her life on hold, she journeys to Nairobi in honour of her brother and rescues the children.
Bella’s maternal instincts toward the children are strong and immediate; she wants to raise them and is prepared to leave behind her successful career and her wandering life. But in a sudden twist of events, her motherValerie, who abandoned them a decade earlier, has suddenly returned with her lesbian lover, Padmini and wants them back. To complicate matters, Valerie’s lover, would like to raise the children in England and is currently mired in a dispute over property that her family owned in Uganda before Idi Amin’s expulsion of the Indian community.
Much of “Hiding in Plain Sight” is devoted to the conflict between Bella and Valerieover Aar’s children and his estate. One would think that starting life in a new city, taking responsibility for two teenagers and handling the complications of a disputed will would be enough to overwhelm anyone. But Bella remains steadfast. She receives legal help from Aar’s lawyer and emotional support from his friends. In addition, she seems to have a sizable fortune, which enables her to pay off people’s debts or get them out of sticky situations with the police. As a character, Bella makes the right choices at every juncture.Throughout this novel’s big and small incidents, the writer maintains a narrative composure that shuns typecasting, reserves judgment and keeps his readers alert to whatever hidden graces emerge from even the most difficult characters.