Wednesday, April 09, 2008
Wolves of the Crescent Moon, by Yousef Al-Mohaimeed
It’s hard not to talk about the Middle East at this time, the fifth anniversary of the war. That’s not true, of course. It’s quite easy to speak instead of bills and chores, upcoming vacations, what we saw on television last night, our own private and community battles. Life appears still to be life, for most of us.
Yousef Al-Mohaimeed’s novel Wolves of the Crescent Moon is an important book, especially at this time. It’s not about the war, it’s not even set in Iraq or Afghanistan—this story takes place in Saudi Arabia—but it focuses readers on that closely interwoven region and on the individuals there. It’s one thing to encourage a Western audience to relate to a Middle Eastern version of well-done chick lit; it’s quite another with what Al-Mohaimeed does.
Turad is a Bedouin who used to be a thief, until he and his partner were caught. Their intended victims buried them up to their necks and left them. Turad had a special relationship with animals, so when a wolf sniffed them out, the wolf ate Turad’s partner and then curled up asleep under Turad’s chin. Overcome with sadness and relief, Turad cannot contain “the decisive and terrible moment” when a tear “moved slowly down the side of his nose, slid over his dry cheek, and trickled around the edge of his mustache before it dripped suddenly, tantalizingly, onto the wolf’s face.” The animal leaps up and rips off Turad’s left ear, leaving him to a life of unique misery.
Amm Tawfiq served tea and coffee with Turad at the Saudi ministry. He responds to Turad with, “You’ve lost your ear, man, but the real problem is when someone loses his life and his future, his happiness and his stability”—Tawfiq was taken by slave traders, after staying on the run in the jungle and in the urban slum for more than a month, and turned into a eunuch. And finally Turad learns of an orphan, abandoned outside a mosque and suffering injury and disease. He and his mother are named by officials consulting “the list of official names for newborn males and the list for Mothers.”
“Imagine that your father and grandfather and mother all had made-up names, that you were given a made-up life, like a hero in a film or novel,” Turad narrates. “The name is nothing like people’s real names in this infernal city. It stretches out like a wild endless track, like a dark corridor in which you can’t see anything, not even your hand. There’s no goddamn definite article at the end…How can you be made definite…if you are indefinite?”
This is a novel of much sadness, but it’s not depressive, and the stories are so unique—beyond merely dating experiences that differ from Western custom or coming-of-age in a different kind of mall—yet the emotion so universally human that it’s a page-turner.
Review by Kristin Thiel, Indigo Editing, LLC
Pub Date: December 2007