Happy to share English excerpts of Le Monde des Livres’ beautiful review of Alwan’s Beavers

19 May 2015 127 views No Comment Email This Post Email This Post Print This Post Print This Post

LeCastor-Beavers-LeSeuilThis review by Catherine Simon, was published by Le Monde des Livres, on January 22, 2015. Below are a few excerpts in English.

Both melancholic and hilarious, this story (…) sheds a critical, often fierce, light on the Saudi society and its offspring (…)

The story begins (and ends) in Oregon (USA), on the banks of the Willamette River. Ghaleb, who arrived two months prior in Portland, goes  fishing (…) when a beaver comes out of the water (…). His protruding teeth reminds him of those of his sister
Noura (…) The animal leaves a short while later, and the spirit of Ghaleb wanders, swimming in the flood of youth memories, spent between his grumpy sisters, a younger servile and greedy brother, monstrous (but separated) parents, and
a small crowd of domestic and handymen, essential to the Saudi decor (…)

There is something of Woody Allen in that son of a Bedouin, holder of a delightful pen, wielding self-depreciation and cold humour with great skill. “Every time I went out with my umbrella, everyone understood I was not from around here” says the hero, amazed by these solid Americans who walk bareheaded in the rain. In contrast, his next door neighbour, the portly Conrado whose face is “congested by bouts of coughing and drinker’s rosacea” expects from Ghaleb, “come from the other side of the world”, to tell him a plateful of “alluring stories” – something that Ghaleb, not the horny type, is completely incapable of doing. Not that the hero’s life is devoid of adventures. With Ghada, married (to a Saudi diplomat) but fickle, Ghaleb plays the role, usually reserved to women, of the occasional mistress (…)

Is this why Ghaleb, in the middle of his life, leaves Riyadh to sit on the banks of the Willamette? The film of his existence comes back to him, in sequences: Insults and blows, with which his father, a villager from the south come to make a fortune in Riyadh and ruling on his household like a tyran, filled his childhood; Badriyah his sister who became a fundamentalist (…); collective masturbation sessions with the boys of the neighbourhood (…); his troubles as a failed student (…)

Talking to himself, Ghaleb can say everything he wants, and he does.

Casting a harsh light on the flaws and archaisms of Saudi society, the novel by Mohammed Hasan Alwan also evokes magnificently and with sensitivity, the memory of a Bedouin grandfather, dazzling with military exploits (…)

It is on the revelation of another family illusion that Ghaleb’s modern epic ends, a little abruptly, Ghaleb, the unworthy son, a bitter man and subtle storyteller. A contemporary novel, splendid and corrosive.

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