A modern-day Three Wise Monkeys, Al-Mohaimeed’s novel, banned in Saudi Arabia, concerns a trio of disabled Saudis who accidentally converge in Riyadh and tell their stories. This is the author’s first book-length U.S. publication.
Turad, a Bedouin missing an ear, waits in a Riyadh bus station not knowing where he is going, but only that he must escape his current “hell,” perhaps find a hell of a different name. He recalls, in spurts, the details of his life—his father’s grief when his older brother ran away with a gypsy girl, his foray into highway robbery to bring money home to his family, his shame about his ear and his stilted, humiliating career as a servant in a ministry office. While half-heartedly trying to decide upon a destination, he discovers an old government file that someone has left, which chronicles in legal terms the life of another misfit, a young man orphaned and mutilated as an infant, leaving him with one eye. The baby, who received the government-issued name Nasir, was placed in an orphanage, where he was arguably sexually abused by a Filipino caretaker, before being rejected by the armed forces. Nasir’s story stirs Turad’s memory, and he recalls the stories of a former colleague, a Sudanese man named Amm Tawfiq, who had once been a driver for the palace and spoke of Nasir. Like Turad and Nasir, Amm Tawfiq is also missing something essential—as a younger man, he was tricked by a group of slave traders, and after a long and arduous journey with them, was viciously raped and castrated. Seemingly the most life-altering of the three wounds, the castration appears to affect Amm Tawfiq less profoundly than the other two are affected by their traumas. In each case, though, mutilation becomes an effective frame for conveying the characters’ collective pain and solitude.
A subtle exploration of loss.