the book that critics have raved about!
Maandeeq is the story of Somalia set in Mogadishu six years before
the outbreak of the civil war written by Faisal Ahmed Hassan.
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Maandeeq book related Article
the writers Said about this book?
By Ali Sharrif
One day, not
long ago, a tall man in casual summer wear drove his beat up 1992
white Plymouth Sundance up to the parking lot of a coffee shop popular
with Somalis in Etobicoke and walked in.
It was late
evening and a little warm outside.
Carrying a bunch of books
under his arm, the driver of the Plymouth walked over to a group
of men who sat at a table talking and drinking coffee. He handed
one of the books to an occupant of the table and in exchange received
cash for his delivery.
But a curious thing happened.
The man who bought the book stood up, walked over to a garbage can
and, dangling the book between forefinger and thumb, dropped it
into the trashcan. He did this with his eyes locked onto the stranger.
“This is what I
think of your writings, rubbish!” said the man before walking
back to the table and sitting down. His point was made.
This was the introduction
of Faisal Hassan, the driver of the Plymouth, to his newly found
fame in the 70,000-strong Toronto Somali community as a writer in
Somali language. Hassan, a first time novelist, is the author of
Maandeeq, a slim volume in Somali language that’s making waves
in the Somali community.
Maandeeq outraged many
in the city’s Somali community because Hassan takes on subjects
that always rub a raw nerve. The novel deals with the Somali civil
war and the inability of Somalis to make peace with each other,
a problem that has prolonged the strife in the old country. And
when the author of Maandeeq moves on to the taboo topic of prostitution
in some Somali cities, an issue that no one in the Muslim community
likes to discuss, the anger in Little Somalia hits the roof.
The Somali language novelist
has faced the heat from his book in front of restaurants, in coffee
shops and even at his work place. Charges of “defaming the
community and the Somali culture” have dogged him. One evening,
the controversy spilled outside a Somali restaurant in Etobicoke
where Hassan found himself surrounded by a small group of critics.
The crowd had a major demand. They wanted Hassan to halt the distribution
of his novel to the small corner stores where it was being sold.
A tall man sporting a short, closely cropped beard and eyeglasses
appeared to be the spokesperson of the group that surrounded Hassan.
“The man offered
me a lump sum of money if I agreed to stop distributing my book,”
Hassan says in interview. “It was astonishing. He said he
was offering a large amount of money collected from religious leaders
who objected to my book because it made the community to look bad.”
Things got so hot that
irate readers were even calling his employer, a community organization
where the author of Maandeeq works as a housing counselor. Some
wanted him fired.
“But my boss paid
them no attention, telling the callers what I did outside my work
hours was my own business,” Hassan says. “That stopped
the calls and I am happy my manager supported me in this way.”
Even some religious leaders
got into the act, going from store to store to buy up all of the
available copies of the book. But they soon gave up as Hassan replenished
supplies every time the book was sold out. At one store, the pressure
from local religious leaders forced the store manager to refuse
stocking the book.
“The manager phoned
me to say that my book will not continue to be sold at his store,”
says Hassan. “Even though I was sometimes frightened and discouraged
by the uproar, a debate soon started and I got a lot of support
from young people and my co-workers.”
The store owner, who
doesn’t want to give his name, says that the book was popular
with Somali language readers. He says he sold more than 300 copies.
One day, he adds, he was visited by a man who said he was a religious
leader in the Somali community.
“He asked to see
the book, looked at it, flipped through the pages and then he told
me the book was against Somalis and many people were angry with
the author,” says the business man who runs his ethnic-oriented
corner store in the Rexdale-Kipling area. “He asked me to
help the Somali community by refusing to sell the book and then
he left. I felt really uncomfortable with the whole thing and I
didn’t want trouble so I asked the author to take his books
The book sparked a debate
in the community on the question of who takes responsibility for
the civil war that destroyed the old country. The blame has always
been placed exclusively at the feet of the ruthless warlords who
manipulate the anarchy in Somalia and finance their hold on power
through illegal trade in drugs and weapons, trade that has spawned
tentacles in neighboring countries of Kenya, Ethiopia and Tanzania,
threatening regional stability.
But Hassan does a neat
trick to bypass the warlords and aim his pen at the clans themselves,
many of whom are represented in the neighborhoods of Etobicoke and
Scarborough. He argues that clan politics and traditional enmity
between nomadic clans who fought each other for dominance bred the
conditions for the rise of the warlords who now stand in the way
of reconciliation and stability in Somalia.
The warlords are currently
involved in peace talks in Kenya . Fourteen previous attempts at
talking peace failed to bring the anarchy under control. Warlords
overran Somalia ever since the fall of the military Junta of General
Mohammed Siad Barre who ruled the arid east African country with
an iron fist since 1969.
“This book, even
though written by an unknown writer in the community, is a gripping
account of the carnage in the Horn of Africa,” says Farah
Abdillahi Farah, a former professor of politics and economics at
the now-defunct Somali National University in Mogadishu. “Once
you start talking about who takes responsibility for the bloodshed,
people don’t want to talk about it because this is an emotional
issue and no one wants the blame. However the topic of responsibility
is crucial to peace because then healing and forgiveness can follow,
but first comes responsibility before closure in Somalia.”
The book opens with an
ugly scene where men with guns are butchering women, the elderly
and the infirm who cannot defend themselves against their assailants.
The screaming gunmen yell “they are the Faqash, kill them”
as they unleash a bloodbath. The horrible slur of “Faqash”
shocked and offended many of the readers of Maandeeq right away,
giving the novel an explosive opening.
“The reason why
I started with this dramatic scene that involves killings is to
remind readers that the warlords are only a tiny part of the problem,”
Hassan says in an interview. “One of the things that I wanted
to do is to remind readers again that the warlords couldn’t
do what they have done with impunity in Somalia without the overwhelming
support of their clans and this is crucial for Somalis to acknowledge
if they want peace to return to Somalia. The word Fakash is a derogatory
term employed to dehumanize the victims of the violence before the
Hassan skillfully uses
the book’s main character, Matashiishe, a former government
employee, to explore the country after its devastation by war and
examine taboo issues. It is 1991 and Somalia is in the grip of anarchy.
Warlords have begun curving the East African country into personal
fiefdoms. Matashiishe takes the reader to Fucking Street in a northern
city’s local red light district.
The local prostitutes
don’t prowl the streets like they do in cities in the West.
Instead, the women rent apartments on Fucking Street where the Johns
go for the thrill of illicit sex while maintaining their anonymity.
The dialogue between Matashiishe and the prostitutes of Fucking
Street ignited part of the furor in Toronto, offending Somali-Canadians
from northern Somalia who regard themselves with the pride characteristic
of the people of this region.
After the controversy
ebbed, Hassan tried to get his novel translated into English for
a wider audience but has not been successful. That’s because
he doesn’t have the money to do it and when he turned to mainstream
cultural organizations, he ran into a brick wall. First, he went
to the Canadian Council for the Arts but he was turned down politely.
While the council says on its website that it supports “the
creation, translation, publication and promotion of Canadian literature,”
Hassan’s appeal for funding fell on deaf ears. The rules excluded
him, he was told.
“I was told that
only well-known writers published by well-known publishers qualify
for the council’s grants programs,” says Hassan. “But
I am just a first time novelist therefore I didn’t meet their
Hassan went next to the
Ontario Arts Council, but here again he had no luck.
“They advised me
to contact the Canadian Council for the Arts and after this merry
go round, I gave up,” laments Hassan.
Canada, it seems, has
not discovered yet the rich Canadian émigré literature
that’s beginning to take shape in humble ways in the ethnic
enclaves of Toronto. Maandeeq has made many readers in the Somali
community uncomfortable with its stark portrayal of the seamy side
of the Muslim nation. However the novel speaks to Somalis in a language
Ali Sharrif is currently
the Publisher and Chief Editor of MinorityReport.ca, a Toronto online
for NOW Magazine for 7 years until 1999 both as an in-house writer
and Multicultural Editor.
• Worked at The Star from 2000-2001 on contract.
• Wrote freelance articles published in The Globe and Mail
and national Post.
You can reach Ali Sharrif