Nuruddin Farah's Past Imperfect trilogy is centred on the returns of Somalis from North America to Somalia. These returns are not just personal; they also provide a forum for political disquisition on the state of Somalia and on Somalia's geopolitical relations with the West, the East African region and the worldwide Somali diaspora. This article focuses on Jeebleh, the protagonist of the first novel in the trilogy, Links, and a character in the third novel, Crossbones. In an interview, Farah has refuted the idea that his returnee characters are alienated or disconnected, stating that they are ‘connected, but in a different way’ from those who stayed in the country, and adding that ‘they want to compare the past, when Somalia was peaceful and beautiful, with the present-day situation, when Somalia is in chaos. But because of their distance, they feel they are objective. They become part of the story when they have been there long enough’ (Farah in Niemi ‘Witnessing Contemporary Somalia from Abroad’: 336).
A professor of Italian at an American university, Jeebleh, as a Dante specialist, has a detailed literary understanding of another ‘hell’. Many years previously, as a student in Italy, he had written a dissertation on Dante's Inferno ‘casting the epic into a poetic idiom comprehensible to a Somali’ and, even that long ago, he had discussed with two friends, Bile and Seamus, ‘what Somalia would be like if the country plunged into anarchy’ (Farah Links: 57). In Links, he makes his first visit to Somalia after a long absence, having gone into exile after a period of imprisonment. Links is set in the 1990s after the fall of the dictator Siyad Barre, when Somalia is in a state of civil war. Jeebleh can only traverse the war zone of Mogadiscio through reliance on (although not necessarily trust in) those who know how the city now functions. Early in Links, Jeebleh asserts that he has come ‘to learn and to listen’ and ‘to assess the extent of my culpability as a Somali’ (32). However, his actions lead, as another character points out, to his re-entry into the Somalia story, and to the renewal of old friendships and childhood enmities.
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