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
As presaged by its title, contradiction is the theme of Peter Stamm’s novel, All Days Are Night. Gillian, a well-known television personality, remains unknowable to herself. And Hubert, a frustrated artist and Gillian’s lover, creates art through the process of. . .
It’s a rare and wonderful book that begins and ends with violence and humor. At the start of Etgar Keret’s The Seven Good Years, Keret is in a hospital waiting for the birth of his first child while nurses, in. . .
Last year, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian was an unexpected critical hit. Now, it’s just been published in the U.S. and has already received a great deal of positive critical attention. The Vegetarian was a bold book to attempt as an. . .
It’s been almost a year since the publication of Nowhere to Be Found by Bae Suah, but despite being included on the 2015 PEN Translation award longlist, and some pretty vocal support from key indie presses, the book has. . .
Jorge Eduardo Benavides’ novel La paz de los vencidos (The Peace of the Defeated) takes the form of a diary written by a nameless Peruvian thirty-something intellectual slumming it in Santa Cruz de Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands. Recently relocated. . .
Anyone with any interest at all in contemporary Moroccan writing must start with Souffles. A cultural and political journal, Souffles (the French word for “breaths”) was founded in 1966 by Abdellatif Laâbi and Mostafa Nissabouri. Run by a group of. . .
Randall Jarrell once argued a point that I will now paraphrase and, in doing so, over-simplify: As a culture, we need book criticism, not book reviews. I sort of agree, but let’s not get into all of that. Having finished. . .