If Franz Kafka had lived in the Sahara, this is a story he might have told, bleak but memorable.

GOLD DUST

Pensive tale of the many things that can go wrong in a supposedly simple life.

The gold dust of Libyan novelist al-Koni’s title is just one of the disruptive temptations that confront Ukhayyad, who, like the protagonist of the author’s novel The Bleeding of the Stone (2001), lives in mountainous country deep within the Sahara. As the slender story opens, Ukhayyad is proudly boasting of the piebald Mahri camel that a tribal leader has bestowed upon him. (As the translator notes in an illuminating afterword, “the novel assumes that readers will readily recognize a difference of character between purebred and regular mounts.”) Ukhayyad has reason to be proud of his prize ride, but too much pride leads to disaster. It doesn’t help that the sheikh crows, “Whoever owns a Mahri like this piebald will never complain for want of noble values. You’ve honored our homes, O noble youth descended from noble men!” Sure of himself, Ukhayyad is stunned when the poor camel comes down with a bad case of mange, the cure for which involves his striking out into the remotest stretches of the desert in search of silphium, a fennellike curative plant long since extinct except in one faraway valley. The camel suffers, but then so does Ukhayyad; he finds a bride, but the bride he chooses earns him his father’s disownment, and when it turns out that he has a powerful rival, he has a fight on his hands. The storied piebald camel, meanwhile, looks more and more pathetic. Worse things still will befall him, as they will to Ukhayyad, a blood curse on his head. Al-Koni’s story, simply and elegantly told, has all the inevitability of a Greek tragedy—or, better, all the tribulations of Job, though without the redemptive reward—in a narrative punctuated by hints of pre-Islamic belief mixed in with Quranic admonitions: “Didn’t Sheikh Musa say that it was woman who drove Adam from the garden of paradise?”

If Franz Kafka had lived in the Sahara, this is a story he might have told, bleak but memorable.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-61797-069-6

Page Count: 139

Publisher: Hoopoe

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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