From a Crooked Rib by Nuruddin Farah


The title of From a Crooked Rib comes from a traditional Somalian proverb. It goes: “God created Woman from a crooked rib; and anyone who trieth to straighten it, breaketh it.” This means that women and men are different, and men should not try to change how women are. This is what Nuruddin Farah talks about in his book. He writes it from the point of view of Ebla. She is an intelligent girl from the countryside of Somalia.

Elba is confident but she is also respectful. “She thought about things and people in her own way, but always respected the dead. Her mother and father meant more to her than anyone else” She wonders what the role of a woman is in society: “why is a woman, a woman? To give companionship to a man? To beget him children? To do a woman’s duty? But that is only in the house. What else?” Elba knows what is expected of a wife and accepts these rules. It is shown that Elba has a good heart.

Elba is an orphan. She has been raised by her grandfather, who dies at the beginning of the book. People are going to sell her into a marriage she doesn’t want. Because of this she runs away to the city. She stays with her cousin Gheddi. He tells her to look after his pregnant wife Aowralla. She feels that she knows animals better than any human: “Aowralla is an acquaintance since this afternoon, although she is my cousin’s wife. The beasts have been with me since I opened my eyes on the world.” This is because as a woman she is not respected by people. The animals do not try to control her.

In the city she is scared of being independent. “She realized that she would have to do everything for herself. For the first time in her life she faced the problem of getting something done with no assistance.” When a friend of her cousin gets hurt she heals him. She is scared because “she had never been face to face with wars and never had a duel fight. This lack of knowledge about what was to happen increased the tension in her.” She has come from the country to the city. She is scared, but the experiences make her wiser. Therefore, her independence as a woman is good for her.

She questions marriage again. She says “Why should one marry after all? To beget children? To raise a quiver-full of children? Only that? Or is it to love also? To love a man?”. For her love is important. Marriage cannot work unless a man and a woman love each other. This cannot happen in the world she lives in. “From experience she knew that girls were materials, just like objects, or items on the shelf of a shop.” She meets a man called Awill. He is intelligent and likes reading, and she likes him. She agrees to marry him “Awill was very glad that she had decided to marry him. He found a new soul within himself.” This shows that marriage has added to them both.

They travel to Mogadishu, the capital city of Somalia. Awill buys a hotel room for them. Even though they are to be married the next day Awill says that they should share a bed. He says that they are already married. This is unfair and shows the powerlessness of Elba in society. Even though she wants to do the right thing she cannot. However, she still respects him. Her husband treats her well for a week. But then he flies to Italy and leaves her alone in Mogadishu.

Elba becomes friends with Asha. She is an unmarried woman in the same apartment block. Asha persuades Elba to get revenge on Awill by marrying someone else. She marries a rich man called Tiffo.

However, she realises that she has made a mistake; “she did not really understand what life was: she had a wrong interpretation of life. If her interpretation was right, then everybody’s would be right. To her, life meant freedom, freedom of every sort.” Freedom is important in life. But by trying to be free she is only selling herself to Tiffo. She asks “what did that do to me? Whom did it benefit – him or myself? In any case, I was the victim. I went to bed with a man, and although I was doing it deliberately, I could see the consequence.”

After this Elba decides to be honest. She tells Tiffo she is married and leaves him. Soon Awill returns. She remembers she married him because she actually wanted to. Elba and Awill promise they will be honest with each other in future. The book ends as “they got under the same cover and Elba wondered if tomorrow’s sun would rise with happiness, and the morning brightness would bring some encouragement.” Therefore, it ends happily. Elba and Awill appreciate each other in the marriage and are together because they care for each other. Nuruddin Farah suggests that this is how all marriages should happen: wives should respect and love their husbands and husbands should respect and love their wives. This can only happen if they want to be together.



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