Black Foam by Haji Jabir

 

Black Foam by Haji Jabir

Eritrean fiction

Original title – “رغوة سوداء”

Translators  – Sawad Hussain and Marcia Lynx Qualey

Source – review copy

When I was offered the chance to review this I jumped at it as it is a new country for Winstonsdad but also I saw it was translated by Marcia Qualey anyone around the world of translated fiction will know as she runs Arablit website and magazine also has a great podcast she does around Arabic literature all of these is the goto place for ARABIC Literature. Anyway back to the book and to Haji Jabir he was born in a coastal town in Eritrea he has written five novels and is involved with other writers from his country to try and bridge the gap from his country to both the Arabic and African world. I reviewed a book earlier this month from WEST Africa about being a migrant from there well this takes us to East Africa. We follow a different route out of Africa.

He paused for a moment before admitting that he wanted to pay a bribe to be let in. He was afraid it wouldn’t sit right with her, but he decided to move decisively toward his goal, since she had been so frank with him. He was counting on her immense sense of gratitude and her willingness to help. And, as it happened, Saba brushed aside the points in his story where he’d feared she might stop. But then she paused on another matter. “Do you think money is the only thing that stands between you and the Falasha camp?”

His journey has many twists and turns

We follow one man’s journey from Eritrea to first a couple of Places in Ethiopia and then across the Red sea and on to Israel. But who is that man Dawood, David, or Dawit he is a man that changes who he is to try and get by in each new place to get near to the chance to get out and go to Israel. But this is a story of a man on the run that yes can fit in but over time every time gets caught he can be a Muslim, a Christian, and in the end a Jew as he wants to be with a group of Beta Israel the Falasha Jews from Ethiopia. He also observes things like how when he arrives in Addis the capital there isn’t a country ready for war in a way showing his isolation. He is the child of soldier that fought in the war and was in the army himself. we see his and the country’s isolation. He heads through to Gondar the area of Ethiopia where the Falasha Jews are from as he does like a lizard he shed a name and a way of life to make the final step to Israel but then he sees what happens when your skin is darker in that country. All this drifts in the book as thou he looks back at what has brought him to his final destination. As he drifts through the back alleys and darker side of Jerusalem.

The European looked surprised by David’s question. It took him a moment to realize he had emerged from the story, only to be dragged right back in. He almost answered and really, he would’ve liked to give an answer. But after a moment, he realized his dilemma. He had the choice to come closer, but after that, he wouldn’t have a chance to back out. Stories have one door through which we can enter, after which we spin in their world forever. No matter what we think, chere’s no escape from the stories in which we become entangled.

As he ends up as David he has so many stories but which is his real story.

I said I reviewed a book earlier this month about a man that failed to get out of his country but here we see. a man escaping his country but also who he is. What is in a name that is a question we see in this book does a change of name and who you pretend to believe in the change you as a person? But what is at each person’s heart can this one man get through it is about minorities whether that is Eritrean or Falasha the marginalized of this world trying for a better life this book looks at just one man’s journey but how many peoples lives is in this tale how many people try to follow David’s route in part as we see it told in flashback through the book his childhood the wanting to get out and the finally getting there and it not being what it seemed to him. Have you a favorite read from East Africa ?

Winstons score -+A We see David journey through the many skins and names he wore along the way!

 

Leaves of Narcissus by Somaya Ramadan

Leaves of Narcissus by Somaya Ramadan

Egyptian fiction

Original title – Awraq Al-Nargis

Translator – Marilyn Booth

Source – personal copy

I was drawn to this book when I ordered it a couple of years ago as it had the mention of Ireland in the description and would be the second Egyptian novel that had been set in Ireland I had read Temple Bar by Bahaa Abdelmegid and felt this would give a female perspective on the same experience of leaving Egypt to study abroad. Somaya Ramadan herself had spent time in Egypt studying English and then she studied in the early 1980s in Dublin she went to trinity college which I  feel maybe where she drew inspiration for this book that also follows a female student from Egypt as she heads to Ireland to study and start a new life there. she had written a couple of short story collections before this novel came out. This novel won the Naguib Mahfouz medal when it came out.

I walked in the direction of my lodging, across from the train station, and fished out my keys, ignoring the source of that invasive scream. The noise that had now subsided distilled a single, terrifying insight: that what I live is not the condition which other human beings live. That my senses and my comprehension of life are not those of anyone else, of anyone else but me. Something very alarming was beginning to weave itself together there in front of me, slowly, growing to giant proportions as it came ever nearer, a fearsome cold tidal wave edging toward me to swallow me completely to bring darkness over all to bring stillness.

The arrival in Dublin of Kimi the sense of being overwhelmed is here

The book follows Kimi a sensitive woman that has the ability to feel the emotions of those around her and she is about to head to Ireland to study. This is the start of the book and it deals with the usual clash of cultures that a move like this can bring a person to the edge as she struggles to fit in the style of the narrative of Kimi and the world is a nod to Joyce we see her inner working as she settles into her lodgings at Westland row in Dublin as she walks a tightrope as she struggles with her mental health as the move is overwhelming to her as she is a fragile soul as her world and the lit world she is studying at times almost touch and blur as she tries to fit in an exile in a country with its own selection of exiles this is a classic slice of culture clash and also a nod to classic modernist writing.

The map of exile fixed to the wall was not a yearning for the homeland. There was no exile. All there was, in that place, was another homeland, another nation. A nation inhabited by its own images, its own brands of hypocrisy, its own deliberate silences and its own pretense, that it alone existed and that anything east of London or west of Boston had no real place in the calculations of geography. These were unknown reaches, better left unknown. The only condition was silence and the pretense that here was all there was

As I say being an exile is a theme in the book as both countries have had so many over the years.

Ramadan herself is also a translator of English books into Arabic, you can see the influence of that on this as one of the writers she has translated like  Virginia Woolf into Arabic. Kimi is like a Woolf character that fragile line between being there and losing one’s mind in the world she is in. That Woolf did so well in her books. It is also a classic look at culture clash and being a fish out of water. But alongside this is the culture clash of Kimi in a new country and studying there as well. There is a nod to the common ground of Egypt and Ireland being in countries with many exiles and being an exile from your own country in that country that has a lot of exiles in. This is like a Rachel from a voyage out or later characters from the waves had stepped out of a Woolf novel and become Egyptian in Dublin this is a fragile woman in a new world and has a wonderful amount of lit quotes it is easy to see how in love the writer is with English literature with a sprinkling of quotes here and there in the book. I said this is a perfect companion piece to Temple Bar another fish out of water this has a female take on that experience. Have you read this or any other AUC(AMERICAN UNIVERSITY IN CARIO)  books?

Winstons score – A – A lost modern gem of Arabic writing about being an outsider in Ireland

Something strange, like Hunger by Malika Moustadraf

Something strange, like hunger short stories by Malika Moustadraf

US title – Blood feast

Moroccan fiction

Original title – some stories in the collection Trente six

Translator – Alice Guthrie

Source – personal copy

I have to hold my hands up this is yet another. Arab book I first heard of via Arablit first I think it was on a list of books to read from Arabic that was coming out this year. It was also on their podcast have they had a chat with Alice GUTHRIE I think I order the book the second the podcast end so caught up in the short life of this feminist Moroccan writer. She died too early as complications of her kidney disease and she had dialysis. Alice said she discover her when she was asked to translate a story by her for Words without words that were 10 years after Malika had died and she has brought most of what she wrote into English this is a short collection of short stories by a writer that tested the bounds of what she could write.

This Saturday night I feel a searing pain rip through my belly. Something warm is pouring out from between my thighs and running down my legs. It smells foul. I understand, but I don’t know what to do. I put my hand between my legs to stop this disgusting contamination
from flowing. My fingers are covered in blood. A droplet falls, dark as liver. I shudder, the iron bed frame creaks.`My teeth chatter. I feel degraded, humiliated, I’m cringing in abject shame. What if the blood floods the whole room? The stairs? The neighbourhood? I cry out. My father comes. His eyes are half-closed. What’s the matter?’ His voice sounds like a death rattle. ‘What’s the matter?’

The young girl awakes and is shocked by the blood at her father’s house.

These stories tackle those people on the edge of the world she lived in those women that just have to get by t in a male-dominated society. from a girl who needed a virginity test to marry and escape the world she lives in will she passes will her mother help her out. Will her daughter get the concrete house in ItalyThen we have a young girl with her father as she has her first period a frightening experience as her father has her every Saturday with different women by his side as she visits him.  she wakes to find dark blood between her legs and a woman she barely knows her only help as the girl ends the story the stone of dread weights her down on the Saturday visits. Then we end up on a crowded hot bus as we see a boy pick his nose she captures that crowded feeling of a busy bus so well. then the tale. IN housefly we have a depiction of cybersex as a woman chats with Jupiter 1960 as a housefly buzz around her as she does so. The last story death was meant to be part of a novel.

In front of me was a woman with a child on her back of about four years old, indifferent to what was going on around him, munching on a greasy doughnut and slurping from time to time on the snot running out of his nose. To my left was someone with body odour so nauseating it could knock a person out. And behind me was someone pressing up against me in a weird way. I could feel his
breath burning my ear. The decrepit bus moved like a time-ravaged tortoise, the driver pulling over to let scores more humans on at every stop. I don’t know how the bus had room for that colossal number of passengers.
The man’s breaths were still too close to my ear. I tried to pull away from him a little, but it was so jam-packed in there – such claustrophobia, such a stink of sweat and farts. The man was blatantly rubbing himself up against me, and if I stayed silent any longer it would be taken to mean I was enjoying the game. You bastards – even on the bus?

Claustrophobia a crowded bus caught so well in this very short story.

This is such a small collection it is so sad this is all we will have this is a writer that tests the boundaries of what she could write. she was the first to depict cybersex in Arabic Alice said in the afterword. the book is one of those that takes you into places we shouldn’t be a girl having her first period, a girl trying to prove she is a virgin than a woman laid on a bed chatting over the internet to a man that isn’t her husband. this is a grimy dark visceral world she paints a world we never see that hidden world. I suggest you listen to the Arablit podcast (BULAQ). THE afterword is enlightening with the slang used explained that opens up the world we enter the sad thing about this collection it left me wanting more she had written a novel which hopefully Alice will translate as she has such passion for this write and bringing her voice to English a brave soul that test what she could get away with. Have you a favourite female writer from the Arab world?

Winsons score – +A one hell of a collection that will stay with me and I will reread this collection for many years to come.

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.

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

 

 

Minor Detail by Adania Shibli

Minor Detail by Adania Shibli

Palestinian fiction

Original title – تفصيل ثانوي

Translator – Elisabeth Jaquette

Source personal copy

I must admit I haven’t reviewed as much Arabic fiction as I use to I have a number of books on my shelf and had a couple of other books I thought would be on the long list this year. This book I was aware of and would have got round to eventually as I have read nearly all the blue cover books from Fitzcarraldo and have not read a bad book from them. Adania Shibli has written a number of other books she has previously had three other books translated. She studied at the University of East London. She was also on the list of writers under 39 that was collected together in Beirut 39. She now lives in Berlin. So here we go on the latest stop on this year’s Booker international longlist.

After dinner, he went straight to the second hut, where he told the guard to bring the girl and follow him, and he headed to his hut. Followed by the guard and the girl, who were in turn followed by his dog. On the way there, he passed by the supply dump in the middle of the cam and appeared a few moments later woth a folding bed, which the guard rushed to carry for him.

When they arrived at his hut, he took the folding bed from the guard and brought it inside, while the others waited outside. after a moment a latern’s glow, then the noise of furniture being moved around the room reached them

Just as the act the minor detail is due to happen.

The book revolves around a minor event in the summer of 1949 as the Israeli army is setting up camp in a remote area what follows is the mundane event of setting up the camp near the Egyptian border in the desert.  what we see is the boredom of this camp from the point of view of their commander. The heat and uneventful nature of this camp lead to a horrific event when the first people they see a group of Nomads passing through who the troops that are trigger happy after the waiting kills them but one bedouin women has been left alive when the Commander brings her back to the camp she is raped this event just a small part a minor detail in the war is rediscovered in the present by a writer as she vis in Ramallah trying to uncover more about the events that lead to this horrific crime. It shows the past and present and how little has changed and the way not to lose the past avoid rewriting history.

so, one morning when I was reading the newspaper, and happened across an article about a certain incident itself that began to haunt me. Incident itsef that began to haunt me. Incidents like that aren’t out of the ordinary, or let us say, they happen in contexts like this. In fact they happen in contexts like this. In fact, they happen so often that I’ve never paid them much attention before. For instance , on another morning when it was raining. I woke up late, which meant I couldn’t sit and work at my table in front of the big window; instead I had to go straight to my new job. When I arrived at my stop, and got off the minibus a bit before the clocktower.

The reading of a minor detail gets a writer down a rabbit hole of wanting to find out more about what happened.

This is a clever way of using the past and present the two views of the same event and looking at what happened to this Bedouin girl the only person left after the rest of her group was killed by the soldiers. And a writer from the modern-day and reading about this event and what happened in a brief report in a newspaper. That sparks her to have to try and find out more about this and this minor detail in history. but it shows how little has changed for the Palestinians in modern Israeli as she struggles to get to access the sources for the info. As she gets through the labyrinth of bureaucrats. The first part of the book is an account of war but also the way it can lead to horrific events like this the events are like what happened in Lord of the flies or clockwork orange where a group of young males whether school kids, a gang or a group of soldiers overstep the mark. This does what a good novella should do and that feels like an epic on a small scale this takes one single event and like a Macro lens blows it up to it fills the screen and is thus a motif for the great events of the war of independence

Winstons score- B a solid novella leaves the reader thinking for a while after.

The Frightened Ones by Dima Wannous

The Frightened Ones by Dima Wannous

Syrian Fiction

Original title – Kha’ifoun

Translator – Elisabeth Jaquette

Source – personal copy

Over the last few years, I haven’t reviewed enough books translated from Arabic I have felt so when looking for potential booker international longlist books there were two titles that had been shortlisted for the Arabic international prize this and another book which won the prize. So I reviewed this first the other is in my tbr and if it makes the list will be read quickly if not in a month or two. Dima is a writer I had read a few years ago as part of the Beirut 39 collection of writers she had studied French literature at Damascus University and the Sorbonne. She then became a Journalist and worked on TV. She caught the eye of many literary critics for her 2007 short story collection Details. This is her second novel.

A few weeks later, it did all happen again. I left Kamil’s office and found the main sitting on the front steps. smoking. “Coffee?£ he asked. I thought about how he’d invited me for a cup of coffee and then ordered a beer. He’d abridged hir invitation this time, an enquiry with a question mak suspended in the air. I copuld see it flying around his head , attatched ti a string of letters jumbled on top of each other, obscuring one another. I nodded, agreeing reluctantly, and started walking; he followed me. Almost immediately I stopped.

The Frightened ones are based on two friends and former lovers when Suleima and Naseem meet at the therapist in pre-war Syria in Damascus in the waiting room and started an affair. They are from different backgrounds Suleiman is an anorexic woman with a number of anxieties and worries around men. She falls for the charming Naseem a doctor that has his own horrors he constantly smacks his face this is a broken pair in a broken country so when He leaves and then sometime later send to his former lover his first book as she reads on what she finds he has written the story of a woman with Anxieties and issues with her family as she loses her male relatives to the war that is tearing her homeland apart. she slowly starts to gather she is reading her own story that he has written into a novel. As he has taken her life as his own. Suliema hasn’t painted in a number of years since the death of a close family member. This lifts the lid on the horrors of living in fear and under constant terror.

I remember our living room well. i remember our carpet, green with dark dreen embroidery, and how I often rolled it out to play. The only thing that cut out the silence was the creek and chirp of the wooden shutters, I lived my childhood in silence, so much so that when I summon the few scenes I do recall to memory, they appear with out soundl They’re silent. No commotion. No voices. No ,music, Just windows chirping.

The electricty ofent wentin ur building for days at a time, those across the way would still be lit, while we alone were drowning in Darkness. Our power lines were connected to the close-knit neighbourhoodof Esh al-Warwar, some distance away, where most residents were from Alawite officers famlies.

The opening if Naseems manuscript does she Suliema see paraells in her own past !!

The book shows where reality and fiction can blur over time as the two lovers were separated over the war as she stayed and saw her family die and he left but he used her sorrows anxieties to build his novel. It shows the horrors that can be caused by the war on the mentality of the public and the busy therapist waiting room and those left in the country as it descends into madness.  As the constant threat of both death but living under a dictatorship with the fear of getting caught or worse. This isn’t a fast-paced book more a book that opens the reader’s eyes with it wonderfully insightful prose looking into the horrors of everyday life with a poetic mix of metaphoric insights into everyday life. Also, the anxiety of that also of love under those conditions and that is followed by betrayal has a powerful message about the horrors in Syria. As the book in the later part divides between Suleima story and her reading Naseem’s work as the two unfi=old and at times cross each other the lines of fact and fiction blur. Now if this was the Old IFFP prize I would have this higher up the list as it a book Boyd the old head judge would like. Have you read this book? or have any favourite recent reads translated from Arabic into English?

Winstons score – B great but in parts, it wanders

The Sand child by Tahar Ben Jelloun

The Sand Child by Tahar Ben Jelloun

Morrocan fiction

Original title – L’Enfant de Sable

Translator – Alan Sheridan

Source – Personal copy

Well, I move to North Africa and an older modern classic from that country that has been sat on the shelves for a while to read. The last book I reviewed from Morroco had a link to this writer as it was also set in the Tazamamart prison which featured also in Ben Jelloun’s best-known book This blinding absence of light. He is often mentioned as a future Nobel winner he has written in French although Arabic is his first language. He has written twenty or more novels and has won a number of big book prizes over the years including the Prix Goncourt.

The father had had no luck. He was convinced that some distant, heavy curse weighed on his life; out of seven births, he had seven daughters, the mother, aunt Ayshaa, and Malika, the old servan woman. The curse was spread over tim. The father thought that one daughter would have been enough. Seven was too many; tragic, even. How often he remembered the story of the Arabs before the advent of Islan wo buried their daughter alive! Since he could not get tid of them, he treated them not with hate but indifference.

Hajji has had a run of daughter so when he has had seven that is enough he makes a plan for number 8

The book starts with Hajji telling of the fact that he had seven daughters to his wife and no matter what his next baby was going to be a Son no matter what happened. So he knew his money would pass through the family as the daughter in Islamic law at the time is only able to get a third of the estate from the Father. Which his brothers knew and had pointed out that they would end up with his money if he hadn’t given birth to a son. So when they are expecting an eighth baby he decides no matter what the babe will be a boy and passes on so much to the elderly midwife Lalla his plan to make even a daughter into a son Lalla ios elderly and sees the benefit of the idea. So when his wife finally gives birth and it is a daughter the secret of that is known by just two people Hajji and the midwife. as the child, who is called Mohamed Ahmed grows they talk about having their chest tied up which is to stop her breast from developing. HE is married to a sickly daughter of a relative the story is told in the form of a storyteller and the young Mohamed writing to a friend but what will happen will Mohamed gather she is actually a woman? there are telltale hints here and there throughout the book and how the father always seemed to have the answer then later are storyteller end up blind and this is a nod to Borges of course.

The truth goes intoo exile. I have only to speak and the truth moves away, is forgotten; I become its gravedigger and disniterer. That is how the voice is: it does not betray me. And even if I wanted to betray it, reveal it in all its nakedness, I could not. I would knt know how. I know its requirement: avoid anger, avoid tenderness, do not shoutm do not whisper- in short, be ordinary. I am ordinary. And I trample underfoot the image that is unbearable to me. God, how heavy that truth wieghs upon me! I am the afchitect and the house, the tree and the sap, a man and a woman. No detail must disturb the harshness of my task, whether from the outside or from the bottom of the grave. Not even blood.

Later his decison wieghs heavy on him and this is just as the  young Mohamed has her first period !

I have the absence of blinding light by him as well but this one jumped out of me as the story seemed one I would enjoy the tale of a down on his luck husband that keeps wish for a son to only have daughters then he decides to sacrifice his youngest and let her grow up a boy in this age of people being able to be more gender fluid this tale of a deliberate swapping of gender seems horrific as it highlights the pain the child had to undertake to be passed as a boy. But also shows how religion can affect people it also highlights the prevailing system at the time in Morroco run by its elderly King. The novel uses the storyteller to tell the story within the story of the book it has nods later on towards Borges not only with the story becoming blind but also when later on the book its has a few Magic realism and Borges touches to the story. This book can easily be read in a day as it is under two hundred pages and each chapter moves the story as we move through various gates. Have you read any books from Tahar Ben Jelloun?

Tazmamart by Aziz Binebine

Tazmamart by Aziz Binebine

Moroccan Memoir

Original title – Tazmamart

Translator LuLu Norman

Source – review copy

When this arrived I decided it was a good time to read a few other books from Morroco alongside this one and I found I had two others both of which had a connection to this book. Aziz was a young officer when by chance he was caught up in the attempted coup on King Hassan 2nd. His brother is a prize-winning Moroccan writer Mahl Binebine. The story of his time in Tazmamart prison which he told his fellow Moroccan writer Tahar Ben Jelloun which he used as the bases of his novel this blinding absence of light.

By evening,everything was ready. The drill had been rehearsed a few minths earlier, but with different actors, this time, the finger of fate pointed to us. After a hard day’s work, we gathered for supper in the officers mess, in combat uniform of course, with guns and ammo.as he entered the mess, ithe school’s doctor, a young Feench Lieutenant doing his military service, exclaimed “My god, you look like you’re planning a coup!” A burst of laughter greeted his remark, but a seed of doubt had been sown.

The night before the coup that was meant be an exercise but could be seen as a coup!!

Aziz Binebine was an officer and from a family close to the King his father was an adviser to the king when one day he was told of an exercise the next day that they were doing. At the time he jokes it could almost be a coup so when this exercise was an actual coup the young man was caught and captured and then sentenced to ten years in prison he initially went to a normal prison but then after another coup he and 57 fellow prisoners are taken to a special underground prison the king had built so these men will be forgotten. The only escape is death in their tomb as he calls it they are fed poorly and have to live through illness and sickness they survive through keeping each other spirits up in Aziz part that is through retelling the novels he remembers over and over again. Baba Driss his fellow prisoner a man that imagines he is being attacked by snakes as he loses his grip a close friend from his academy days also loses his will to lie this is a story of Aziz but also those around him.

At midday the guards arrived, they served us a smallbread roll and a carafe of chickpeas boiled in water with a little salt. This would be eternal, unchanging menu, with a pot of pasta, again boiled in a slightly salted water

Ass the transfer had taken place in mid-augusty, we each received a khaki canvas shirt and trousers, the classic military summer uniform. The striped uniform of civilan prison were taken away, through we kept the plastic sandals we’d arrived wearing.we swapped our clothes quite cheerfully. Deep down, we were almost relived to take off that shameful apparel in favour of the more or less reputable uniforms of the army, to which – after all we still belong.

The arrival at the new prison is grim food wise for them.

Now, this sounds familiar as it was a three-hour interview he gave many years ago to Tahar Ben Jelloun that was the base of his prize-winning novel but since then he has said he had neem pressured into the interview and in an open letter denounced the book. I will be reading that book later in the month. But this is a personal account the names are the names not like in the novel where a character has been made up. This is his memory of those 18 years in Tazmamart the horror of having to do surgery on oneself to live, to remember works of literature which remind me of the recent NYRB book that captured  Józef Czapski’s lectures on Proust as he recalls retelling those great Russian writers he loved this shows the hope literature can give as I read in Albert Manugels history of reading where there is a section about books that have been read by prisoners over various times. The other thing he does is show the loss of his inmates over the 18 years half of those 58 prisoners didn’t make it to see the light of day most of them ending up going mad with the despair of their situations. Have you a favorite book from Morocco

 

 

Memoirs of a Woman doctor by Nawal El Saadawi

Memoirs of a Woman Doctor by Nawal El Saadawi

Egyptian fiction

Original title – ” مذكرات طبيبة

Translator – Catherine Cobham

Source – review copy

I decided to take a detour from the Booker list and I had read this when I was sent it and never got to it which is a shame as I really enjoyed it and I admire Nawal as a person called the Simone De Beauvoir of the Arabic world she has long been a champion of women in the Arabic world. former movements for both female rights and human rights within the Arabic world. She was also a doctor before being a writer. I was grabbed by her a  few years ago when she was on the BBC show Imagine talking about her life she even showed the first practice which is in this book.

I hated being female. I felt as if I was in chains – chains forged by my own blood trying me to the bed so that I couldn’t run and jump, chains produced by the cells of my own body, chains of shame and humiliation. I turned in on myself to cover up my miserable exictence.

I no longer went out to run and play. The two mounds on my chest were growing bigger. They bounced gently as I walked. I was unhappy with my tall slender frame folding my arms over my chest to hide it and looking sadly at my brother and his friends as they played.

The years she becomes a teen and more visible as a woman.

This is a fictionalized version of Nawal’s own journey in many ways. The narrator of the books is a driven young woman growing up in fifties Egypt. Her observations as a child reveal much about the society of the time.  her older brother always has the best in there home the larges slice of meat at breakfast that she sees as unfair. The best things are always his and as she grows even thou she is younger she is bigger than her brother. she is determined to study medicine. This is a wonderful female take on the Bildungsroman genre as we see her fight the male-centered society from her fellow students when studying medicine. She cuts her hair and avoids the arranged marriage her parents try to push her into. Then when she becomes a doctor her patients are shocked she is so beautiful as a doctor this line made me laugh as thou the beauty of the doctor made a difference. A failed marriage against her parent’s advice but when he tries to tell her what to do in the home she decides he isn’t the one. She is battling all the time is that perfect man just around the corner.

I left my room and went to sit in the big common room. I opened a medical journal and tried to read it, but I couldn’t help my thoughts straying to the doctor’s wing where the colleague on night duty was nownow asleep. For no obvious reason it occurred to me that i was alone with a man in the middle of the night and only a closed doorseparated e from him. Althouh I was wide awake this idea came to me like a dream and I felt afraid …. No,Not afraid,worried..No, not even that, for I felt desifre, or not quite desire but a strange disturbing feelin that made me glance furtively at closed door from time to time

It is hard for her at the medical school as this pasage shows.

This is a very short book easily read in an evening. Great feminist work about how determined women in a very male-centered society could make her way even with hurdles put in front of her. The shock of her first view of a naked male when she was at medical school when she had to cut up a dead male and this was her first view. I felt the latter part of the book was maybe trying to put too many years into too few pages which is a great shame as the early family years and the time studying were very captivating. But the later times were maybe lightly covered. This was her first novel and it was a great debut I was sent the other books that  Saqi brought out in there Saqi bookshelf series.

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