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.