Yousef Al-Mohaimeed

"Wolves of the Crescent Moon"

(Reviewed by Tony Ross FEB 26, 2008)

Last year I read Girls of Riyadh, a flashy novel about the romantic trials and tribulations of a group of girls from the Saudi "velvet class" (i.e. wealthy elite). It struck me as rather shallow, soap opera-inspired look at life in the kingdom despite the authenticity and popularity it garnered from being banned. I'm not sure if this latest novel from Saudi Arabia will find nearly the readership, but it certainly deserves to. Like "Girls," it uses a series of characters as a lens through which to examine the kingdom, but its three co-protagonists are on the opposite end of the social spectrum from the "velvet class."

The book unfolds in short chapters which alternate between the lives of three men, each of whom has suffered a grievous bodily loss which in many ways has determined their fate. Turad is a one-eared Bedouin tribesman from the Saudi desert who moves to Riyadh to avoid becoming an outcast among his own people. There, the proud hunter and highwayman ekes out a life as a servant in a government ministry, enduring endless humiliation. One of his coworkers is Tawfiq, a elderly Sudanese man who was captured by slavers in his homeland and taken across the Red Sea. Castrated as a child, he works in a palace until 1962, when slavery is abolished and he is turned out into the streets with no prospects. Finally, there is Nasir, an orphan who lost an eye to a cat as a baby and can never overcome that tragedy.

The stories of the three men unwind in a variety of styles, from memories, storytelling, official files, and so on -- some parts are even imagined by others. Besides the physical scars, there are other recurring motifs, such as the absence of a true father to any of the three, as well as issues of naming. In Saudi society, one's name bears a great deal of information, such as class, rank, tribal affiliation, and soforth. None of the three men here can retain their true name, and this encapsulates their total disenfranchisement from society. Though the brief chapters can make for a slightly choppy read, it doesn't diminish the power of this window into the lives of Saudi Arabia's underclass. To be sure, there are tales of much greater woe to be told about the kingdom, such as the lives of those poor laborers who come from around the world to work at the lowest rungs of Saudi society, but this is a step in the right direction.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 4 reviews


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About the Author:

Yousef Al-MohaimeedYousef Al-Mohaimeed was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 1964 and has published several novels and short-story collections in Arabic. Wolves of the Crescent Moon is his first book to be published outside of the Middle East. His work is banned in Saudi Arabia.

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