Wolves of the Crescent Moon—the first of Yousef Al-Mohaimeed’s works to be translated into English—tells the stories of three men at the fringes of Saudi Arabian society, all missing a crucial body part.
The first is the narrator Turad, a coffee boy at ministry who lost his ear and is taunted mercilessly by the people he works with. His only friend is Tawfiq, a former slave who is also a eunuch.
As the book opens, Turad is in a train station trying to figure out where to go and discovers a green folder containing information about a boy abandoned at birth and missing an eye. Throughout the night, Turad pieces together the story of this man, interweaving it with Tawfiq’s history and the story of how Turad lost his ear. (Which really does seem to be the central event in Turad’s life, leaving him incredibly self-conscious and damaged.)
Al-Mohaimeed uses the stories of these three characters to explore horrifying aspects of Saudi society rarely discussed—probably the reason this book was banned in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia when it was first published. Poor, abused, harassed, even raped, these three men have almost no chance to live a so-called normal life, and the way they do persevere is one of the most intriguing aspects of the book.
I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but basically the lives of these three men are more closely linked than it first appears. Unfortunately this is a bit far-fetched and unlikely. One of those set of coincidences that only can take place in a novel or movie.
The writing is decent enough, although a bit singular in tone. In contrast to Garcia Marquez (to whom he’s compared in the jacket copy), Al-Mohaimeed isn’t nearly as funny, or quite as rich. He really finds his voice in his more brutal depictions of life’s abuses. The story of Tawfiq is quite affective and disturbing, and the scene that finally explains how the narrator lost his ear is sufficiently gross and terrifying to remain with me for a while . . .
It’s clear that Al-Mohaimeed has been influenced by classic “Western” writers, and he is pretty successful at merging elements of classic Arab literature with a complicated structure and disaffected narrator more often found in writers like Dostoevsky. A fairly young writer (born in 1964) with a number of untranslated novels and short story collections, Al-Mohaimeed is definitely a writer to watch. And thanks to presses like the American University in Cairo Press—who first published this translation in Egypt last year—there’s a good chance English-readers will have access to a number of these books.
Wolves of the Crescent Moon
by Yousef Al-Mohaimeed
Translated from the Arabic by Anthony Calderbank
180 pages, $14.00
There’s little to say about a series of prose poems that willfully refuse to identify pronoun antecedents. Or perhaps there are a million things. The poems in _Morse, My Deaf Friend_— the chapbook by Miloš Djurdjević published by Ugly Duckling. . .
The Crimson Thread of Abandon is the first collection of short fiction available in English by the prolific Japanese writer and all-around avant-garde trickster Terayama Shūji, who died in 1983 at the age of 47. This collection would be important. . .
Last year, NYRB Classics introduced English-language readers to Catalan writer Josep Pla with Peter Bush’s translation of The Gray Notebook. In that book, Pla wrote about life in Spain during an influenza outbreak soon after World War I, when. . .
“Your bile is stagnant, you see sorrow in everything, you are drenched in melancholy,” my friend the doctor said.
bq. “Isn’t melancholy something from previous centuries? Isn’t some vaccine against it yet, hasn’t medicine taken care of it yet?” I. . .
What to make of Vano and Niko, the English translation of Erlom Akhvlediani’s work of the same name, as well as the two other short books that comprise a sort of trilogy? Quick searches will inform the curious reader that. . .
The opening of Jón Gnarr’s novel/memoir The Indian is a playful bit of extravagant ego, telling the traditional story of creation, where the “Let there be light!” moment is also the moment of his birth on January 2nd, 1967. Then. . .
Mahasweta Devi is not only one of the most prolific Bengali authors, but she’s also an important activist. In fact, for Devi, the two seem to go together. As you can probably tell from the titles, she writes about women. . .