The critical case of a man called k by Aziz Mohammed


THE Critical Case of a man called K BY Aziz Mohammed

Saudi fiction

Original title – Al hala al harija li al mad’u K

Translator – Humphrey Davies

Source – Personal copy

I love listening to BULAQ podcast. which is the podcast done by the people behind the Arablit blog which I have been a fan of and is my go-to place for any books I may want in English translated from Arabic. So when the last of this season’s podcast was about this book. Which was shortlisted for the international prize for Arabic fiction a debut novel from Saudi writer Aziz Mohammed it was the title of this book that caught the eye as it is an obvious nod to Kafka. It follows a writer that has just finished reading Kafka and decides to write a diary well it is more a weekly round-up meditation on his life and what has happened to bring him to where he was as 40 weeks of his life unfold.

ANOTHER BAD DAY TO MAKE do with just two hours of sleep. I wake in a panic, drive like a drunk, and make it to my desk on time. I rip off the yellow sticker, crumple it into a ball on thedesktop, and give my good morning salutation to the Old Man (as I shall call him here, in homage to my favorite Hemingway novel. He’s the man who occupies the desk next to mine or, perhaps I should say, to be more precise, the computer screen next to mine, since after they increased the number of
employees to beyond the department’s holding capacity, they put a new desk between each two old desks. Now the place is full to overflowing with squashed-together, parallel rows of screens, each open to the next, like in the computer lab at a school. The only thing that interrupts their serried lines is the space allotted to the printer, which continually gives off noises, pushing out one sheet of paper after another and forcing you to rush over to it the moment you print anything so that your
sheet doesn’t get lost among other people’s.

The opening of the second chapter or week two of our narrator’s diary.

The narrator is unnamed he is a young man and we get that he has never quite felt in place all his life this is also connected to his health he has never felt well this is shown by his visits to doctors even thou he is told he is well there is a sense early on something isn’t quite right he talks about bad days and two hours sleep. Then we see into his present which we see him working at an Oil company this is one of the few hints scattered here and there to where the book is set as the stripping of names and place names another nod to Kafka but it also adds a universal nature to the narrative this could be anywhere as the podcast said and what drew me in the are hints scattered here. The nature of our narrator is that he is a man that struggles to connect to women his sister and his mother just don’t get him there is just one point he seems to connect with a female at the hospital but more about that later. We get a glimpse into his work life which remind me why I do my job and he felt he is a man out of sync with those around him in the office and a bunch of colleagues. That you’d meet at most companies those that buy into the business world love being successful and the trapping the opposite of our narrator a man that is part worry about his health and part world reader he loves books from around the world the start of Kafka to when he talks about the other writers he loves like Hemingway and Tanizaki. Then we see him open a train to the capital to see a doctor and finally get to the end of the reason he doesn’t feel right. Well, he is told he has cancer the second half of the book follows his journey as I said at the start this our narrator has never felt quite right even when this is the case he isn’t settled if that makes sense.

I, for my part, have worked here three years. Let’s call it. the Eastern Petrochemicals Company, after the Eastern Petroleum Company where one of Tanizaki’s protagonists works; this is appropriate as we are in the eastern, oil-rich, part of this country (it’s better not to give specific names or places as I don’t know who may not barge in some day and read what I’ve written). It’s a large company, with a guaranteed future, and that’s what matters. As an IT graduate, it would make no difference if I were working in an electricity, gas, fertilizer, or any other crap company. I didn’t put a lot of thought into choosing my college major either. My father died when I finished high school, and that timing played a part in directing me toward options with financial incentives. This specialization was said
to be in demand in the labour market, and what more can anyone ask than to be in demand in the labor market? One has to earn one’s living somehow: young people are suffering from
unemployment, the house needs the salary, and are you better than Kafka? These are good enough reasons for me to make sure I keep my place among the white-collar workers.

His workplace he uses Tanizaki’s company name as another way to avoid it seeming like a Saudi novel.

I focused on the first part of the book as for me it was the part that grabbed me the latter part worked as a narrative of having cancer. I supported a service user in my previous job on his weekly appointments for his Leukaemia so the story of his hospital appointments but also the way he felt reminded me. of that time and the chap, I looked after. Aziz has said his narrator isn’t him, but maybe part of him is the way the mother reacts to the narrator’s books that made me laugh. for me, our narrator is a Saudi Adrian Mole his love of books the worries around the woman and also maybe a half-empty view of life. it is a book that has a little of Joshua Ferris and his like those great post 200 pre covid books that caught the workplace add to this is a sickness memoir but the male version of this may be like a Saudi John Diamond coping with cancer. Add to the flourishes of Kafka to it. for me, it is hard to think this is a debut novel as it is accomplished in it style and the narrator’s voice is so strong and he seems to capture a man that is like a square peg in a round hole of life. What is your favourite book from Arabic do you listen to BULAQ if not give it a try. this is a Saudi novel that isn’t overly Saudi and it works so well as it gives a universal feel to our narrator’s story and life which is maybe why he talks about Western, not Arabic literature.

Winstons score – +A one mans birth cycle of having cancer.

The tree & other stories by Abdallah al-Nasser

Source – library

Translator – Dina Bosio and Christopher Tingley

Abdallah is one of the most well Known Saudi writers outside Saudi Arabi ,born in the fifties he studied Arabic literature in his native Saudi ,he then lived in the us ,and has been an editor of a number of magazines around the world involving Arabic culture .He currently lives in london and is editor of the quarterly magazine Al Thaqafiyah .

The tree is a collection of short stories ,mainly based in Saudi ,but others are based in Scotland and US ,now these stories do what great Arabic short fiction does and that is show life ,like a fly caught in amber catching a unique moment or series of events perfectly .The main story the tree is a clever story about old and new clashing and what happens when people stick to closely to tradition.A new hospital was due to be built but an old village tree was in the way ,so it was built elsewhere.

A year later , the people were passing by the tree on their way to the hospital .One thing had certainly got bigger – the graveyard to the west of the tree .In time the tree was standing in the middle of the graveyard .

the closing lines of the title story the tree .

Abdallah has a great wit ,and a natural talent for satire.It also captures the clash of cultures in Saudi the old and new and how they sit and sometimes smash into one another . elsewhere we see a man discovering the in workings of a factory ,people’s disappointments at what there doing and what they could do .There is a story set in Loch Ness about a couple of people who meet one dark night in that spooky place .The book itself is short at only a hundred and twenty pages .There are over twenty stories so it is a book that can easily be read in an evening like I did .Like other short stories from Arabic world  I ve read in the last year or so ,these stick with you and make you think of a different world to my own .

Do you like short stories from Arabic ?

Have you a favourite Arabic writer ?

March 2023


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