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AUDIE CORNISH, Host:

Author Nuruddin Farah has been writing about his native Somalia for years. And in 2006, he took a special trip back home.

NURUDDIN FARAH: I went to Somalia with good intentions.

CORNISH: Farah had hoped to broker a peace deal between the U.N.-backed transitional government and the Islamist militia that controlled much of the countryside.

FARAH: I flew into Mogadishu with the aim of bringing the two groups, that were provocatively speaking about a war, closer to each other. When I failed, now that is when I started thinking about writing a novel.

CORNISH: Farah's latest novel, "Crossbones," is the last in a trilogy chronicling Somali's civil war. His key characters are expatriates, like Farah himself, who return to Somalia and bear witness to turmoil in their homeland.

FARAH: Jeebleh, who is a character in the first part of the trilogy, returns with his son-in-law called Malik, who is a journalist. And because many journalists had been killed, and because no foreign journalist was based in Somalia for fear of their lives, he braves it and goes to Mogadishu to write about it. And it's during his visit to Somalia - in fact, in the first three, four days - that Ethiopia invades Mogadishu. A very good time for a journalist to find himself in Somalia.

CORNISH: We also see the country through the eyes of Malik's brother, who is a professor, but who is there for a very different reason in that his stepson, he believes, has gone to Somalia to be trained as a suicide bomber.

FARAH: That's right. A number of things have happened among Somalis in the past few years, and one of them is that a large number of the young Somalis are now teenagers; volunteer as draftees for Shabaab, al-Shabaab terrorist group because it couldn't fit into life in North America, also because their parents couldn't fit into life in North America. So there is a lot of unhappiness and disappointment, in a way.

CORNISH: I think what's interesting about the book is that the brothers, when they go back, they're sort of supported by friends who serve as guides or as security. But we essentially experience this world through their eyes. And it's a very, very tense world.

FARAH: Yes, it is a very tense world. Now, the journalist lives in a place that's secure. But when he goes into the market - one of the biggest markets in Mogadishu - or when he goes to interview someone, or watches as some young thugs burn the corpses of some of these Europeans who fell in the war for Mogadishu, then he runs into problems.

CORNISH: One of your characters says that when you've lived in a civil war condition and have not known peace, you become someone different from your natural self. These characters, some of them who have been friends for a long time, are fundamentally changed by all of this - this experience.

FARAH: Sure, sure, sure, sure. Well, and the reason is because you don't know who your enemy is. You don't know - you can't tell who your friend is. You can't tell whom you're going to trust. And you become a neighbor to death. You live close to death, and you're always on the edges of your nerves. You don't know what you're going to do next. It's a very, very difficult situation.

CORNISH: What have you learned about yourself, as an exile?

FARAH: Well, I've learned how much I miss Somalia. I've learned how much I have to nurse this obsession with Somalia. And I discovered that every time I go, I come back with a mix of anger, anguish and sadness. And the reason is because people are dying, starving. And one would wish that one day we would wake up, and we would hear that International Criminal Court would investigate the situation in Somalia and bring all those culpable, all those who've participated in making Somalia ungovernable - bring them before the International Criminal Court. Nobody seems to care about Somali. That's the unfortunate side of our history.

CORNISH: Nuruddin Farah, he's the author of "Crossbones." He spoke to us from the studios of Minnesota Public Radio. Professor Farah, thank you so much for talking with us about the book.

FARAH: Thank you. Thank you very much, Audie.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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