Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Absent by Betool Khedairi

Book 6 of 6 for the Expanding Your Horizons Challenge
Book 1 of 9 for the Orbis Terrarum Challenge
Book 1 of 6 for the Novella Challenge

This book flows like the honey that Dalal's uncle harvests from his beehives. We are constantly moving from one flat in her apartment building to another: the flat of the blind photojournalist or the nurse, the flat of the fortune teller/mystic healer or the male hairdresser. As we meet these people we slowly gain an appreciation of life in Iraq between the Gulf War and the current occupation. The cities I saw lit up by missiles on my television as a teen now are full of people like me - with a longing for the "days of plenty" when food and medicine were readily available. Their ancient civilization has been under fire for decades while the citizens of Iraq still remaining in their country have to make a life out of what's left.

Although beautifully written, Absent is not a happy book. The ways that people behaved in order to survive in that society was sometimes upsetting. Characters you came to know and love turn out to be something completely different - how hard if you truly had to live in fear of being betrayed to a government that didn't actually care for your welfare. Occasionally though, you would see the whole apartment community rally around one of the characters in need, and that also had a real ring of truth. I suppose where ever there is deprivation and war, you will find both the exceptionally evil and duplicitous as well as the courageous and resourceful.

The beauty of this book is the glimpse it gives us. I like how Saad (the effeminate hairdresser) says, "We have to dream of the things that we're entitled to hope for." Like peace.


Melissa said...

Sounds intriguing. I think I'm most drawn to the fiction from the Middle East; I feel like I have the most to learn about the area and the people. Thanks for participating in the challenge! :)

bethany said...

Absent is now a book that I will definitely look for. I am very attracted to middle eastern lit right now, as I am hungry to learn more about the people there. Thanks for this amazing review, it makes me want to pick it up right now!!! I just read I'jaam by Sinan Antoon which is A-mazing. I have a review on my blog if you are was incredible to read. It left me longing for more of this kind of literature...I need to try Absent.

Great start to the OT Challenge!!! yay!

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