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Blogpost on Beginning: Maps

In his chapter about beginnings, David Lodge begins his chapter with a description of a character named Emma Woodhouse. This leads to the questioning of when a novel actually begins. He states, “when does a novel begin?…certainly the creation of a novel rarely begins with the penning or typing of its first words”(4). I completely agree with this statement. Farah begins chapter 1 of Maps saying, “you sit, in contemplative posture, your features agonized and your expression pained…” (Farah 3). He also mentions in chapter 1 one of the character’s name, Misra, but he does not attend to explaining what is going on or Misra is. Surely this cannot be marked as the beginning of the novel. Rather, part one entirely does not mark the novel’s beginning. Part one of Maps is a series of fragmented and disconnected narratives narrated by an unreliable narrator. The main character himself narrates some of the memories presented, and others are by an unidentified narrator. But what does this have to do with beginning? The narration of this novel serves but one purpose, and that is to emphasize the theme of identity. Farah aims to show the one’s identify exists beyond everything else, and that the fragmentation portrays the raw development of identity, as the reader experiences the development of Askar’s identity at the same time Askar does.

  “We read a book slowly and hesitantly, at first. We have a lot of new information to absorb and remember, such as characters names, their relationships…the contextual details of time and place” (5). This statement made by Lodge brings me to the discussion of where the novel actually begins. The novel is split into two parts for a purpose, part one serves to help the reader understand the context of the novel and the conflicts facing the main character. Without being aware of these conflicts, such as the death of his parents, the question of whether he is a male or female, and the fact that Misra is Ethiopian, we will not be able to understand the plot. However, that does not make part one the beginning of this novel. In part one chapter 6, Farah states, “and the anxiety to become a fully grown man, a man ready for a conscription into the liberation army, ready to die and kill for his mother country” (Farah 109). This statement alludes to the beginning of the novel, which takes place in part two. This novel begins when Misra is charged for treason and Askar must choose between his “mother” and his mother country. The decision made by Askar is fully dependent on the fragments of part one, because the reader understands his decision based on the identity developed in part one.


11 Comments

  1. Many people see the beginning of a story to appear on the first page, including myself at a point. Since I truly admire reading, and even read on my free time I slowly started to realize that the beginning of a story isn’t always given at the starting point but rather anytime in the novel. Most of the time when reading you tend to not pick up the gist of the story from the first page but rather as you read on and start to grasp on to what is happening this emphasizes Lodge’s idea on a novel rarely beginning with the first word of the first page. For example, when I first read a couple of pages of Maps, I was confused on what was going on until I understood the different point of views and the narrative structure, which ill discuss in my blogpost. Like nour mentioned a story is always split into parts which we see in maps, it has two parts. I feel like Farah chose to do this to further his portrayal on the structure of raw development of Askar’s identity, and to build a bridge between the readers and Askar as they both experience the following events in his life together.

  2. aminanahavandi says:

    Very interesting post Nour! I would typically assume that the beinning of any book was at the first words. I never gave it much thought, but now that you have discussed it, I feel like it’s such an important point to consider.I believe that your perspective on where the novel begins is valid, however I’m not sure if I agree yet. I guess it may vary from person to person, or from novel to novel, but for this book in particular, I think it’s hard to decide where it begins. Someone could argue that it begins with the quote that I discussed in my blog post (which kind of foreshadows Misra’s character). Or someone could propose that the novel begins in part 2, as you have. Or someone could even assert that the novel has no true beginning, and that the author intended for the audience to transcend beyond the limits of time and chronology. As for myself, I think I’m just going to wait until I finish the novel to decide if/where the beginning exists.

  3. ksaxx8 says:

    I enjoyed reading your excellent blog post Nour. I agree with Fatima that I’ve always believed the beginning of a story/novel is on the first page and after reading this book and understanding it more and getting more into it, that mindset changes. This post helped me to truly understand the meaning and idea behind the beginning of the book. This shows that there isn’t a necessity to really understand the whole beginning from the first page but rather get to it as you move on the book and understand the events that happen and then understanding how everything begun and the background of it. After all, the beginning of the book is one of the most important things in reading. This is because as you read on everything relates back to the beginning and how it all begun to get to the point that the reader is at. Again, great blog post Nour!

  4. ozy96 says:

    This is a very interesting view on the beginning of novel Nour, well done! I realized that the beginning of the novel is not always presented in the beginning and does not necessarily have to. Although I believe that the beginning of the novel starts with first words, to me the actual story itself does not become clear until all the narrators have been presented.

  5. oshammo says:

    I found this blog to be very interesting and helped me understand the beginning of the novel. As soon as i read the first page i felt as if i was being attacked with words and didn’t really understand what was going on.This is the only book i felt that the beginning didn’t start in the first page. After we discussed this in class i then began to take each page separately and break it down. It starts with Askar not knowing himself and if he had any purpose in life and then goes shifts to another character ( Misra ) who began to show how much she cared for Askar. It left me wondering exactly how they met and why she loves this child so much. I would argue that the book truly has no beginning. There is not a story that flows through the whole novel. You’re just learning more and more about each character and see how they develop.

  6. samiajrab says:

    In my opinion, the beginning of a novel is largely dependent on the theme of the novel. Since themes are often subjective, the beginning of a novel could be different to each reader.
    Assuming the theme of the novel is defining where one’s “home” is, the beginning could be (as Nour stated) in chapter 6 where Askar is presented with a choice between his “mother” and “motherland”.
    However, assuming the theme is something more abstract, such as Askar’s maturing into an individual, one could argue that the novel has no beginning.

  7. nassersamad says:

    This is a really great post; however, I unfortunately disagree with the assertion made that the beginning of the novel is not the actual beginning. I do not take anything away from your argument as you did make some very valid point. The reason I disagree is actually because I agree with what Samia said, the beginning of a novel very much is dependent on the theme of the novel. Thus, since the central theme and conflict and theme of the novel are the confusion and disillusionment that Askar feels as he tries to find his identity amidst social turmoil, I believe that the beginning that you describe as “a series of fragmented narratives…by an unreliable author” is in fact an appropriate one. If the novel itself is discussing confusion and unreliability in the search for oneself, It is fair to say that the beginning is one that foreshadows this by demonstrating it.

  8. abdullahaly97 says:

    I have not really thought of the location of the beginning of a novel as an important part and didn’t give much attention to the beginning of Maps. But now that it has been brought to my attention, I don’t really think that there really is a true beginning. I just think that the confusion that the author creates with his time shifts, dream sequences, and shifts in point-of-view keep startling the reader in such a way that the reader never truly feels that he/she fully understands the novel.

    There is always something that keeps the reader from understanding the novel, and because of this there is no true “beginning” (or at least in Part 1).

  9. manal201596 says:

    The beginning of a novel to me is when the narrator is introduced and the character knows what they want or need in the story. For Maps though it stated off a bit wired( I personally believe) because he would talk about the past then the present although the book was written 2 years before it actually had happen. Also the beginning is when a character is faced with a dilemma and they have to choose one or the other and that’s when there new life begins and that’s the beginning of the novel.(personal opinion)

  10. mariamkhan612 says:

    I really enjoyed your blogpost Nour, because it connects to the chapter I was assigned, “The Ending.” You discuss Lodge’s point about when a novel actually begins, and I talk about when does a novel end. I agree with your points about how some stories do not start at the beginning of the page, such as in Maps. At first, I was really confused about the entire plot when I was reading the novel, but when I learned about the various points of view, I understood it better. As in my blogpost, I discuss how Maps, in general, doesn’t have a definite time, so the reader does not know the beginning or the end of the novel right away.

  11. sufyansheikh says:

    The beginning of the novel is very confusing to understand, but it sets the tone for the rest of the novel. It is very important to understand the beginning, knowing the narrator , when he is talking about Askar, understanding the feel of the novel. Our understanding of the rest of the novel depends on our understanding of the beginning, such as the premise and the direction the novel is taking.

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