In a Riyadh bus station, a man comes across a file containing official reports about an abandoned baby. Read more...
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In a Riyadh bus station, a man comes across a file containing official reports about an abandoned baby. As he pieces together the shattered life documented within, a larger picture emerges of three outsiders-a Bedouin, an orphan, and a eunuch-linked by fate and trying to make lives for themselves in a predatory city.
Unfolding with the intensity of a fever dream over the course of one night, "Wolves of the Crescent Moon" is a novel of astonishing power and great moral consequence about a deeply traditional society confronting the modern world.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 43.
- Review Date: 2007-09-24
- Reviewer: Staff
Three tales of Arab outcasts make up this fresh-voiced debut novel by Saudi Arabian author Al-Mohaimeed. A one-eared Bedouin tribesman named Turad quits his humiliating 13-year job as a low-level ministry servant and ends up at the Riyadh bus station with a plan to flee, but no destination in mind. While he figures out where he wants to go, two additional voices join the narrative. One is the memory of Turad's elderly co-worker at the ministry, Tawfiq, whose sad story begins when he was a child and his Sudanese village was attacked by slave traders. Tawfiq was later captured, raped, castrated and performed the services of a eunuch until he grew too old to be of use. The other voice is from a discarded official file Turad finds at the bus station. It involves a one-eyed orphan named Nasir, who is sexually abused by the staff at the orphanage where he grows up and is eventually denied his ambition of becoming a soldier. Al-Mohaimeed's work, assisted by Calderbank's faultless translation, beautifully captures the frustrations and resentments of his tormented characters. (Jan.)
A portrait of real life in Saudi Arabia
Most Westerners have a mental picture of Saudi Arabia that's hardly more than a mélange of clichés featuring white-robed sheiks climbing into Rolls-Royces to survey vast oil fields. Yousef Al-Mohaimeed's haunting and enigmatic novel, his first published outside Saudi Arabia after being banned there, offers a stark picture of that society.
The central character of Wolves of the Crescent Moon is Turad, a Bedouin and former desert bandit who, as the novel opens, finds himself in the Riyadh bus station with no destination other than one that will take him out of the city he has come to loathe. After losing his ear in a desert incident that's described in wrenching detail at the novel's climax, he has migrated to the capital, moving through a series of menial jobs until he finds a position as a servant at the finance ministry.
Like Turad, the other principal characters of Wolves are physically damaged. Tawfiq is an elderly man who exists on the fringe of Saudi society. Captured in Sudan as a young boy, he is sold into slavery and then castrated. Eventually he drifts into the finance ministry, where he and the Bedouin discover a surprising connection. Nasir is an orphan who mysteriously loses his eye shortly after he's abandoned at birth. In the bus station a stranger hands Turad a government file whose contents recount the mundane facts of Nasir's existence, facts Turad uses as the springboard for an imaginative re-creation of the boy's life. Employing a nonlinear narrative that shimmers with a certain dreamlike quality, Wolves interweaves the lives of these characters in complex and unexpected ways.
It's easy to imagine this tale being narrated by an ancient storyteller to a group of rapt listeners gathered around a blazing desert fire. Al-Mohaimeed's prose is taut and yet lyrical, evoking the harsh beauty of the desert landscape in spare sentences rich with vivid imagery. While his name will be unfamiliar to most American readers, his talent deserves serious attention.