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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The meaning of Nuruddin Farah's story in current New Yorker

Nuruddin Farah's story, The Beginning of the Affair (a nod to Graham Greene there?), in current New Yorker is puzzling and provocative; Farah is a Somali writer who's published a # of novels about the warfare and the warlord culture in his native land - he now lives in the U.S., I think, and I believe he writes in English. This story is set in S. Africa and tells  of a 60-something retired professor who now is in business running a pan-African restaurant - he's the money behind the restaurant and a staff of Africans of course run the show - and who becomes completely enamored of a 20-something African man who patronizes the restaurant. The prof pursues the young man, spends a lot of time in the nearby shop where he works, pretending innocent friendliness he learns the young man's life story - apparently a refugee from Somalia where his father is a powerful and wealthy and cruel warlord - now living in near-abject poverty. The prof arranges to have the restaurant staff give his crush excellent takeout meals for free - provoking of course bitter resentment. He eventually invites the young man to live in his spacious house, provides him with clothing, medical care; they sit and watch TV together, holding hands - and it takes a year-and-a-half before he cuddles up next to the guy in bed; the young man resists a sexual encounter - not now, he says - but the fall asleep in an embrace, end of story. And it's a troubling story - a story of well-meaning, perhaps even benevolent, exploitation: a much older, more powerful man takes a suffering younger man under his wing and provides him with wealth and comfort and stability, in return for his affections. It's never clear whether the young man is gay, but it's suggested that he's not - making the story in that way even crueler than if the relationship had been to the slightest degree consensual. On one level, it's a story about an exploitative relationship between two adults - but of course there are broader echoes and themes: it's also a story about the exploitation of one race by another, of the 3rd world by the 1st world, of the native population by the colonial invaders - and made all the more complex by the young man's family background, his father known to be among the most brutal exploiters of his own nation and his own people.

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