Book Review – A World without Maps by Jabra and Munif

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** spoiler alert **

3 Stars

For the first one hundred pages of this novel, I was going to give it two stars. Because it mainly consisted of backstory and world building. The authors put forth some questions that should’ve encouraged the reader to keep reading to find out the answers. But because I did not care for the characters at the time, I had no interest to find out the answers. I started enjoying the story when it focused on “Husam al-Ra’d” and later on the murder of “Najwa.” So I think the book should have started immediately with Husam’s story, rather than the backstory. This brings to mind Vonnegut’s advice to start a novel as close to the end as possible (or something like that).

In the beginning we are introduced to the family that seems very different than other Arab family, but in reality it is stereotypical. We have; the religious person, the aunt; the non-religious, (usually the “scholars” of the family)  Husam and ‘Ala’; and everyone else, whom I call the traditionalist. The beginning has a lot of subplots, which, frankly, I don’t remember. And based on that, I say that it was quite uninteresting.

The next part was that of Husam, and I enjoyed it, because Husam was the most interesting character. Husam is bohemian, he falls in love, and out of love, he spends his money, he gets drunk, he spends his money. He lives for the moment and probably believes in high universal principles. Even though his character was well drawn, the authors missed a great scene with his death. I wanted to cry, to feel sad, and angry while he was dying, but my feelings were very subdued. That scene was a missed opportunity.

The end part was good, nothing fantastic. We eventually find out who the real Najwa is (or do we?). The narrator have been telling us that she’s this angel that will save him from his destructive and sinful ways, but it turns out that she’s just human. The novel ends with ‘Ala’, the narrator, believing in a new lady in his life. But the reader knows that ‘Ala’ had made this mistake before. There’s also Najwa’s murder, which we never find out who did it.

The novel would have been much better shorter. Had the backstory (around 100 pages) been intertwined in the main plot. Some parts of the novel are worth reading to those who have the time.

Similar review in Arabic on my goodreads page.

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