OTC 1: "Sweet and Sour Milk" -- Somalia
My first book for the Orbis Terrarum Challenge is Sweet and Sour Milk by Nuruddin Farah, published in 1979, the first volume of his trilogy Variations on the Theme of an African Dictatorship.
Set in the late 1970s, the novel deals with life under the harsh, repressive government of the Somali dictator known as The General. Loyaan, a dentist with no real interest in politics, learns that his twin brother Soyaan has possibly been involved in actions against The General's regime and its Soviet allies and has apparently been poisoned in consequence. As he attempts to find out the truth, he encounters a conspiracy on the part of the government to rewrite history and to cast his brother in the role of a steadfast supporter of The General who died praising the revolution that gave The General power in the first place. Their parents, for varying reasons, accept the government's version of the story and try to talk Loyaan out of questioning the situation. Several friends of the twins are arrested and imprisoned, and Loyaan is warned repeatedly to accept the government's "truth" and stop causing trouble or there will be serious consequences. Finally, just as he becomes convinced that Soyaan was in fact poisoned by a KGB doctor, he is told that Soyaan was about to have been "rewarded" for his services to the state by being given a minor diplomatic post in a Soviet-bloc country in Europe, and , further, he is informed that, as a tribute to his brother, the government is assigning him to that post. The novel ends with a knock at the door as the authorities arrive to escort him to the plane which will first take him to Moscow for indoctrination into his future diplomatic duties; he is, in effect, being sent into what appears to be perpetual exile for his refusal to cooperate.
Sweet and Sour Milk is a devastating evocation of what life was like (and continues to be still in some African nations) under the dictatorships that all too often came to power in many African countries in the wake of colonialism. Farah himself was exiled from Somalia several years before beginning the trilogy for having criticized the government in an earlier novel, so he knows all too well the oppressive, claustrophobic atmosphere that exists under such a regime and portrays in exacting detail the frustration and powerlessness that the individual experiences if he attempts to confront such a powerful government which has a vested interest in maintaining the fictions of its own creation. The other two novels in the trilogy, Sardines (1981) and Close Sesame (1983), further develop these themes as well as others, while dealing with related characters; taken as a whole, the trilogy gives us a clearer picture of the group of conspirators to which Soyaan belonged and its eventual -- and inevitable -- outcome.