cover image Hiding in Plain Sight

Hiding in Plain Sight

Nuruddin Farah. Riverhead, $27.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-59463-336-2

Somali writer Farah's (Crossbones) 12th novel takes on religious extremism and sexual politics in Africa in this bold but ponderous novel about a woman reassembling her family in the wake of a tragic event. After her older half-brother, Aar, a high-ranking UN official, is killed in a terrorist attack on the organization's headquarters in Mogadiscio, Somalia, the 35-year-old, half-Italian, half-Somali Bella is forced to put her photography career on hold and travel to Nairobi, where Aar's teenage children, Salif and Dahaba, live. There, she adjusts to her new role of surrogate mother and shares her grief with family friends and Aar's former lover, a Swedish UN official named Gunilla, while waging a custody battle with Aar's estranged wife, Valerie, who arrives with the woman for whom she left her family 10 years earlier, Padmini. While the tension between Valerie and Bella is compelling, and Valerie and Padmini's experiences as lesbians living in Africa illuminating, the novel otherwise suffers from a lack of forward movement. Whole sections are spent on quotidian scenes that do nothing to develop the story or characters. Many of the more interesting threads and subplots remain underdeveloped, such as the attack that kills Aar and one about a friend of Valerie and Padmini's whose gay bar in Nairobi is raided, leaving the reader wishing Farah had more tightly focused his narrative. (Nov.)