Three boys grow up together in Kuwait.
Katkout, Fahd, and Sadiq are about 12 when their native Kuwait is occupied by Iraqi forces. Some of the boys are Sunni, some Shiite, but all of them—and their families—suffer during the occupation. Katkout narrates this uneven novel from a distance, alternating between the late 1980s and the present day. Katkout’s parents happened to be in London just before Kuwait was invaded. They were stuck outside the country, with Katkout stranded at Fahd’s house, sharing a bedroom with Fahd’s grandmother Mama Hissa. In the present day, Katkout has formed a resistance group with Fahd and Sadiq; they’ve named it Fuada’s Kids, after a TV show they watched as kids. Readers who aren’t already familiar with Kuwaiti history and culture might have trouble following some of these events. Alsanousi (The Bamboo Stalk, 2015) can be engaging, and many of his descriptions are vivid. But the movement of the novel feels stilted. The narrative jolts from one timeline to another, but neither one of them has a steady momentum. It’s unfortunate, too, that neither Fahd nor Sadiq emerges as a fully formed character. That Fahd loves music is as close as we get to his inner state. Sadiq is a mystery. As for Katkout, it’s unclear why he spends most of his narrative describing Fahd’s family (but not Fahd himself) rather than his own. There are moving scenes between Katkout and Mama Hissa, but these don’t make up for the rest of the novel’s sprawl.
Uneven prose and flat characters detract from this novel’s many ambitions.