Contributor: Stefano Zangrando
Garane Garane was born in Somalia, a descendant of a royal dynasty. He attended school in Mogadishu and then moved to Italy, where he studies Political Science at the university of Florence. He obtained a PhD in Italian Literature at the university of Grenoble, where he also completed a degree in French Literature. He currently teaches at the department of Social Science at Allen University in South Carolina, and he is refugee state coordinator for the Refugee Resettlement Program of South Carolina.
The only novel written by Garane (in Italian) is Il Latte è buono (Milk is good), published in 2005, which literary critic Armando Gnisci defined it “the first Italian postcolonial novel”. In fact, seen from a postcolonial perspective, the work presents a number of recurrent features of this textual constellation: the peculiar structuring of a family saga, the unifying function of a parental figure, the use of orality on the linguistic and thematic level, and a fusion of fantasy and realism tending, as Silvia Albertazzi observes, “to reconcile the myth with the story, (…) the magical reality of the postcolonial imaginary with the horrors of the historical record”. Equally characteristic of this novel is, on the other hand, the mixture of “linguistic hybridization” and “wandering and exile at thematic level” in which Albertazzi sees a commonality between postcolonial literatures and “the founding texts of Western cultures”.
The novel is divided into four chapters. The first chapter, entitled “Birth of a Queen”, is set in a village of Azania, in the region of the Horn of Africa between Somalia, eastern Ethiopia and north-west Kenya, dominated by the clan of Ajuran, founders of the Gareen dynasty. It is an unspecified time in the 18th century, western “History” has not yet landed on the shores of Africa in the form of imperialism, and the future queen Shaklan is about to be born, the woman who will give birth to the father of the protagonist of the novel. In this chapter, the tribal society of pre-colonial Somalia, centred on orality, is depicted in such a legendary way as to recover a pre-modern register and chronotope, and this makes me think of the past “distanced, completed and closed as a circle” in which, according to Mikhail Bakhtin, epic and all classical literature cast their narratives.
The second chapter, “Mogadishu the boring”, is set in the Somalian capital (first under the Italian domination and then unified), and functions as connection between the three generations of Gareen embodied by the main characters and their respective times. Kenadit, Shaklan’s son and future member of the Somali leadership (first mayor of Mogadishu, then, after the coup of 1969, lawyer and minister of public transport and aviation), belongs to the middle generation that experiences firsthand the colonial transformation of the country, its “modernization” and the consequent cultural costs. From this moment on, the narrative alternates scenes and oral refrains with digressions from the historiographic register, designed to elucidate the historical events leading to Kenadit’s involvement in Siyaad Barre’s dictatorship and to the departure of his son’s Gashan to Italy. It is at this point that the colonized identity of the last of the Gareen manifests itself, as autobiographic projection of the author.
For Gashan, the problem is that his “artificial” identity inhibits any of the national or cultural affiliation, making him feel Italian among Somalis and then stranger in Italy among those whom he believed to be “his fellow men”. The interest of the third chapter, entitled “Exile”, lies on the one hand in the initiatory nature of the experience abroad (so that Gashan’s wanderings across Italy, France and the US come to be a path of complex individual maturation) and on the other hand in the critical look cast on the world and on the customs of colonizers and colonized, and on various aspects of the same postcolonial culture that is a prerequisite for that.
The double disorientation (towards himself and the contexts encountered) experienced by Gashan in his wanderings merges then with the political and social “disaster” described in the las chapter of the novel, entitled “The return, the monologue and death” and set in the Somalia plagued by civil war. In the desolate horizon of historical tragedy, the last descendant of the Gareen has a unique destiny, worthy not only of the heir of a royal family which has its glorious roots in the “pre-historical” history of Somalia, but also of the one whose identity has been forged in the multiple experience of colonization, exile and maturation.
Overall, Garane’s novel expresses the orality of his culture of origin on many levels, producing a specific dialogism of the narrative: on the one hand, in the introduction of Somali terms (plurilingualism) and, on the other, in a stylistic register marked by orality. In an interview, the author explains the motivations of this reproduction of the oral mode: “The structure is traditional, Italian-Somali (…) The Somali nomads used to tell this long story that lasted for pages and pages. When I started to write, I could not stop until I finished the story. The Somalis are known for the art of speaking; this is part of that art.”