Gold Dust by Ibrahim al-Koni

Gold Dust by Ibrahim al-Koni

Libiyan (Tuareg) fiction

Original title – التبر

Translator – Elliot Colla

Source – Personal copy

I shift from Spanish lit to join in Lisa Indigenous lit week for this year and the Libyan Tuareg writer Ibraham al-Koni a book that I have had for a long time. al-Koni grew up as a child in the Desert not learning to read and write Arabic till he was twelve he then went on to study comparative literature in Moscow. This is where he discovered the Lit theory of Geroge Lukac about the novel can’t be outside the city and then decide to set the novel he has written in the desert world he knew thus working against Lukac theory. He has produced over 80 books there have only been a few translated to English. He has taught all over the world and is considered one of the best Arabic writers alive. he was longlisted for the man booker international prize a number of years ago.

When Ukhayyad received the camel as a gift from the cheif of the Ahaggar tribes, he was still a young colt. Back the, on moonligh nights, Ukhayyad liked to brag about the throughbred camel to the other young men of the tribe, taking pleasure in posing questions to himself and then answering them

“Have any of you ever seen a piebald Mahri before ?”

“Never !”

“Have you ever seen a through bred so graceful so light of foot and so well proportioned?”

“Not until now.”

Have you ever seen a Mahri who could compete with him in pride, fierceness, and loyalty?”

“Not like this one”#”Have you ever seen a gazelle who took on the form of a camel?”

“Of course not”

He loved his camel ? a gift the two become close the camel is almost human at times it seems

 

The book focuses on a young Tuareg man as he rejects the wife his father has chosen for him after being persuaded by his wife’s cousin  Duda to divorce her which he pays him in gold dust.  and has thus had to go into exile with only his camel which he was given as a gift by the chief of the Ahaggar tribe it is a thoroughbred camel his pride and joy a piebald camel. The tale is of these two a man and their camel as the two try and survive in the desert as Ukhayyad tries to avoid the men of his tribe the war in the south of the desert as we follow them. The two have a bond that is almost like a pair of best pals the camel at one point saves him from a well when he has fallen down. The camel who like his owner drifts from good health to being on the edge of life as the desert takes it toll on the two of them. the two end up in caves where the walls are covered in prehistoric painting where we see Ukhayyad dream of a house deserted as he hides away from those chasing him.

When the herders brought their camels to the well, they found the young man’s emaciated, bloody body stretched out naked beneath its edge. His foot was still fastened to the tail of the throughbred Mahri that looked as if he had been skinned alive, The camel sttod over his head using his body to shield him from the scorching sun, They carried him into the shade of a nearby lote tree. Under that thick canopy crown, ther dunked his head into a bucket and poured water over him, An older herder hasten to light a fire and heat a kettle of water . The man rifled through his belongings and returned woith a handful of Fenugreeek seeds that he proceeded to cook. The camle herder served the broth to him with a spoon, all the while holding his head like mothers do when they breast feed their children.

ukhayyad nearly dies in the middle of the desert to saved by some camel herders

I have had this on my shelf for too long I know it is considered one of the best books from Arabic and one of the best about desert life as I said this is a buddy book the man and his camel but there is a third character and that is the desert itself the harsh world of the Tuareg is opened up as we follow Ukhayyad and his camel through the Sahara the changing environments as the two on the run try to get by in the tribal world where he has rejected that world when he divorced his with for a bag of gold dust. It is a book about man, desert, tribal life, Sufism, and the natural world. Ukhayyad is a character that isn’t easy to like but you feel for him and the [redicment he has got himself into. A great choice for Lisa’sindigenous lit month ! Have you read any of his books ?

Winstons score – -B an interesting insight into the tuareg world

 

 

Chewing gum by Mansour Bushnaf

ChewingGum

Chewing gum by Mansour Bushnaf

Libyan fiction

Source review copy

“No matter how much time passes, no matter what takes place in the interim, there are some things we can never assign to oblivion, memories we can never rub away.”
― Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore via goodreads

 

Mansour Bushnaf is a well-known figure in Libya ,this is his first book in English ,he has been writing since the 1970’s ,his writing end up with him spending ten years in jail during the Gaddafi regime , apart from novels he is also a well-known playwright .Here he is on the bbc talking about the lack of reading and books in Libya due to the recent regime .It is also the first of a new venture in publishing from Darf publishing , a name connected with publishing Arabic literature since the 50’s .

At this point in the story , Mukhtar finds himself face to face with the statue which become central to his life and our story

Just after Fatima left him .

Chewing Gum is actually a very unique book one that  I’m pleased to have been sent it has an unusual narrative style as it is told in little vignettes .At the heart is the story of a man Mukhtar  , he has seen the love of his life walk away from he was Fatima walk away  and we see how their lives twist and turns in the ten years after this as they are from different places ..The other thread of the story is a crazy craze for chewing gum that arrived in Libya in the 80’s as they started to import it from first turkey ,but as the book moves on you see it come from other places as the connections of Libya with the world changes  over time .Then there is a statue from the time Italy ran the country  that also is symbolic of past events and also the present day .All of this takes place in one part of town ,so what you see is a cross-section of the country in one small place .

The gum , in brief , became , everyone’s obsession.But the actual enjoyable act of mastication remained a privilege of the few one of which ,without doubt ,was our heroine .

Fatima caught up in the gum craze that swept Libya

This is one of those books that long after you’ve put it down you think did that represent this .Now it is a story of lost love ,a man pining at one point Mukhtar is compared to the statue having stood or appeared to have stood in the same place looking down the street at the way Fatima left .Now you could see that as the lifetime of Libya and the years stood like a statue being the years under Gaddafi ? Now the chewing gum is a motif for the outside world and how it connected  to Libya over the time ,but also like the Statue, the act of  chewing gum is also a way of passing time ,also like Gum it  loses its taste maybe Libyans lost the taste of the regime long before they overthrew it or in the gums case throw it a way .What Bushnaf has tried to do is use the gum craze and get people involved academics ,the regime ,shopkeepers and use all these to explain the times .As I said this is a book that you have to read to get it is one that just doesn’t fit easily into a box ,it isn’t like another book from Arabic I’ve read (I am under the belief it is written in English will be translated back to arabic by the writer at a later date ) .Also I do love the simple retro styling of the cover .

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