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Adama – Turki Al-Hamad (Book 1 of 2 in the أطياف الأزقة المهجورة Series )

April 22, 2016

AdamaA friend of mine recommended this to me but I was uncertain. However, after only reading only three pages I became hooked. The chapters tend to be very short, often just two pages, so it is easy to snatch a bit of the book between other activities.

This it the first in a trilogy. Adama is growing up in Saudi Arabia in the years following Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six Day War. Hisham and is an idealistic high school student from a middle-class neighbourhood, seaside Damman, in Riyadh, is preparing for his university exams. Despite his parents’ wish that he become a doctor, or least an engineer, he chooses history and political theory instead: reading the great books of the West.

It explores sexuality, underground political movements, scientific truth, rationalism, and religious freedom against the backdrop of the late 1960s and early 1970s, a volatile period in Saudi Arabia, sandwiched between the 1967 Six-Day War and the 1973 oil crisis. Hamad is quoted on the cover of one of his novels: “Where I live there are three taboos: religion, politics and sex. It is forbidden to speak about these. I wrote this trilogy to get things moving.” At a time when people wonder how people are tempted into ‘extremism’, this novel shows the thinking of many Muslim youth.

Encouraged by a young teacher, Hisham devours works such as The Communist Manifesto by Marx; Lenin’s What is to Be Done? and Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism; The Origins of Marxist Philosophy by George Pulitzer; Engels’ The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State; three novels by Yasin al-Hafiz.” Michel Aflaq’s On The Path to Revival and Nasser’s The Philosophy of the Revolutoin

 A bestseller in the Middle East, it sold more than 20,000 copies despite being officially banned in several countries, including the author’s native Saudi Arabia.  Saudi Arabia is a nation embroiled in internal conflict, torn between ancient tradition and newfound prosperity. Hisham finds himself caught up in the struggle for change, devoting more and more of his time to a shadowy group of dissenters even as he questions both their motives and methods. The result is an intense showdown between Hisham’s love for his family, his firmly held philosophies, and his yearning for social justice. He awakens to passions both private and political, coming to grips with the paradoxes of a conservative land where illicit pleasures co-exist with the apparatus of a merciless state.

However, Hisham disdains all the women he encounters, from chaste Moudhi to raunchy Raqiyya. None are articulate. None are interesting. None are capable of actions other than laughing and crying – and laughing and crying at nothing of substance. Even Hamad’s description of a woman’s “wild dark triangle” – alternately “moist” or “damp” – is employed regardless of character. Each body seems interchangeable. Revealing the freckles on one woman’s face doesn’t make her memorable, either to Hisham or to readers.

There is a degree of repetition – on many occasions we are told, about a shared meal, that they ‘tore apart everything set in front of them.’

Quotations:

“Jeddah appeared beneath them. How beautiful she was! A shining jewel, lights diffused on the clear surface of the water surrounding it, a sight as bright and beautiful as you could find … The plane began its descent toward the airport. Hisham’s heart pounded as they approached the runway. The mysterious heart of Jeddah awaited him, and he knew nothing of its nature.”

there must be things he knows that we don’t.

“an Arab nationalist to the core: it flowed in his veins”

“he came to believe that Marxist thought could light the way and offer a comprehensive philosophy of life.”

We’re afraid of the Secret Police, but we don’t realise that we’ve ended up working for another kind of Secret Police ourselves.”

“Through the window of the train from Damman the buildings of Riyadh began to appear, vague and indistinct like a dream on a summer afternoon. The heat haze of that August day mingled with sandstorms, whipped up by the breath of genies from the al-Dahna desert, giving Riyadh the appearance of …”

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