Category Archives: Book Review

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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Book Review – “Them” by Ghazi Algosaibi – هما” لغازي القصيبي”

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الكتاب عبارة عن حوار بين”هما”، بين هو وهي. يحاول المؤلف من خلاله عرض معلومات “ثقافية” وبذلك التعرف على الشخصيتين.

اعتقد أن إحدى الروايات التي ألهمت المؤلف هي “عالم صوفي” التي نجحت في امتاع القارئ بسبب الحبكة المثيرة والأسئلة الكبرى التي طرحها المؤلف ومن ثم حوال الاجابة عليها. فبعكس “عالم صوفي” لا توجد حبكة مثيرة في “هما” ولا توجد أسئلة كبرى يتوق القارئ إلى الوصول إلى اجوبتها (أكبر سؤال هو الفرق بين الرجل والمرأة أو تحرير المرأة بشكل أخص. وهذا موضوع مهم يستحق الطرح والنظر فيه. وهو أكثر شيئ عجبني في الكتاب).

فيما يتعلق بموضوع تثقيف المؤلف للقارئ عبر الاشارة والتحدث عن كتب ومفكرون ورموز مختلفون، فقد فشل الاستاذ القصيبي هنا فشلاً ذريعاً. حيث إنه لم يتطرق إلى هذه الأمور بعمق واكتفى بذكرها بشكل سطحي (مثلاً اكتفى بذكر هوس فرويد بالاحلام والعقل الباطني ونظرته السلبية للمرأة فقط. وهذه، في نظري، معلومات سطحيه يعلمها الكثير وإن لم يعرفوها فإنها لا تكفي لإعطاء صورة واضحة أو حتى شبه واضحة عن فرويد).

حاول السيد القصيبي فعل شيئين هما كتابة رواية من دون حبكة تذكر وحاول تثقيف القارئ، والنتيجة (للأسف) هي الفشل. فكان من الأحرى به إما كتابة رواية دون حبكة مع النظر بعمق في المسائل المطروحة (كتاب يتمتع به المثقفون في الاحرى)، أو كتابة رواية بحبكة مثيرة ومعلومات ومسائل سطحية (وبذلك تكون رواية تجارية). أشيد بمحاولته كتابة رواية ثقافية للعامة ورواية تجارية للمثقفين لكن في النهاية النتيجة هي رواية مملة وغير مفيدة.

The novel consist of a dialogue between “Them,” him and her. Through which, the author tries to “educate” the readers, and help them get to know the two characters.

I think that one of the novel that inspired the author is “Sophie’s World,” in which, its author succeeds in entertaining the reader by having a captivating plot, and by putting forward big questions, which he tries to answer. As opposed to “Sophie’s World,” “Them” does not have a noteworthy plot and the the author does not put forward big question (the biggest theme/question is the difference between men and women, or, more specifically, freedom of women, which is a noteworthy theme and the thing I liked most about the book.

With regards to the author’s attempt to “educate” the reader by making references to different books, thinkers, and (historical) figures, he had failed miserably. Because he did not delve deep into the thoughts of these figures (for example, he kept mentioning that Freud was obsessed with dreams, the subconscious, and his negative opinion on women. These are issues that almost every reader knows, and if they don’t it’s not enough to give a clear, or even semi-clear, image of Freud).

Algosaibi tried achieving two objectives: writing a novel without a plot, and educating the reader. Unfortunately, he failed in achieving both objectives. It would have been better to try to write an (experimental) novel without a plot while delving deep into the educating aspect (a more literary novel), or writing a novel with a captivating plot while semi-“educating” the reader (a commercial novel). I upload his effort to write a literary novel for the public and a commercial novel for the literary crowd, but the result is a novel that is boring and un-educational .

2/5 stars.

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Book Review – Despair by Vladimir Nabokov

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** spoiler alert **

Hermann, the protagonist, plans the perfect insurance fraud. He plans to kill his double, and collect the life insurance money. He executes his plan to perfection, making sure his victim’s nails are the mirror image of his own, trimming them oh so carefully. But how did Hermann end up at an inn surrounded by policemen and a mob of people looking at him as though he were a monster?

Simple. He failed to see that his double looks nothing like him.

Absurd, right?

Yes, but that’s what makes this novel magnificent. I will say nothing of the prose, because this is Nabokov and the elegant writing is to be expected. The novel gave me great pleasure. It is Kafkaesque without the heaviness, and it also reminds me of Notes from Underground.

If you enjoyed Notes from Underground, or if you enjoy Kafka and absurdism in general, you will probably like this novel. 4.5/5 stars.

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Book Review – Dune: House Harkennon

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In general, the prelude to Dune lacks the depth of the original series. The characters seem recycled as if the authors were just filling out old templates they created. The plot suffers from the fact that the reader knows where the story ends. As for the themes, for me, the main series was most interesting with the sami-philosophical aspect of Leto II sacrificing himself for the greater good (the golden path). So, the themes and questions in prelude are minuscule and petty compared to those in the original series.

Having said all of that, I think the prelude to Dune series was an enjoyable yet shallow read. I give it 3.5 stars.

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