Hoda Barakat’s The kingdom of this earth featured in The White Review
Translation by Marilyn Booth.
“Hoda Barakat’s THE KINGDOM OF THIS EARTH turns to the history of Lebanese Maronite Christians, from the Mandate period to shortly before the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War in the mid-1970s. This scene, occurring very early in the novel, precedes a tragedy that will mark the family at the centre of the story, whose history of village pre-eminence puts them at the centre of local rivalries around class, land ownership, water rights, and gender politics. The ancestral past remains part of the present, as the children of Muzawwaq struggle to make their future in a society of close ties and deep rifts.”
— M. B.
A shower of wet snow. The snowflakes were beginning to stick, forming white patches that spread and thickened across the terrain. The horizon line between the greyness of the skies and the white ground was blurred now.
The bitter edge of the blustery cold softened as the fog dropped over the land, thick as a felt saddle blanket. The mountain paths and ravines were no longer distinguishable, making it impossible to guess how much distance remained ahead. Features of the landscape known popularly as the Frenchmen’s Chamber, Deaf-mute’s Crevice, St Severin’s Elbow, the Cross of the Sacred Heart, had all vanished. After Patriarch’s Point the entire expanse of these heights was submerged in the sour gummy milk. Overhead, winds whirling and pounding as though powerful water currents were ravining the skies changed course suddenly, a fierce onrush whipping across the ground to prevent him moving forward.
He got off his horse. He pulled the saddlebags of lentils off the horse’s back and tossed them to the ground but he kept the sacks of wheat and hay where they were. He opened the blade of his penknife and slashed open a sack of hay, bringing it up to the horse’s head. But his beloved horse didn’t plunge her snout into the sack. She would not eat. Mubaraka, eat! For the love of the Virgin, eat – it will give your legs more strength. We don’t have a choice, Mubaraka. We have to go on.
The horse stared steadily ahead as though she were deliberately ignoring his words. Her head was as cold as were his fingers stroking her forelock. She whinnied and jerked her head away from him. Angry at him she might be, but she would never abandon him.
You’re as blessed as your name says you are, Mubaraka. I couldn’t stay overnight there. I could not stay in Bou Ali’s home. You know how much I love him, that Bou Mansur. You know it – I can tell, because as soon as we leave this summit behind to start our descent to Ainata Village your pace picks up until you are swaying and prancing, when no one has even begun to urge you on! You know how he adores you, how he kisses your neck and brings you fresh hay sprinkled with sugar.
Even Bou Mansur’s wife had showed some resistance to her husband’s ways. Or at least her hesitancy. And you know what a good, decent woman she is, Umm Mansur. He would start propositioning her until her cheeks glowed blood-red. The Lord receive our prayers, she would say to him. Break the power of Satan, my dear cousin, husband of mine.
Ever since that moment when Bou Ali pulled the goat out of the herd and began slaughtering it with what seemed vicious intent in front of his mother, his voice loud with a crude oath, Muzawwaq, knotting his eyebrows, had expected something bad to happen. It was an evil omen. There was no cause to prepare such an elaborate welcome. It had been a month or so ago that Muzawwaq had visited his partner Raji Abu Ali, also known locally as Bou Mansur. He had ribbed the man, reminding him to be fair over the season’s take of lentils and wheat. He had been trying carefully to sweeten his warning to Bou Mansur, that the fellow must not cheat too much.
Thanks be to God for such abundance, he said. Mubarak ism al-Adhraa, blessed is the name of the Virgin, her bounty has flooded over her servants. The yield of fodder this season will last us for two years. Even if the Lord inflicts a bad season on us in the coming year, making us pay for our errors and sins, we will have some time to let our remorse get the better of us, it will drive us to seek the Lord’s forgiveness.
Bou Mansur began laughing. His little trills of laughter punctuated by throat-clearings suggested to Muzawwaq that he had gotten the message. So why, then, on this day had he insisted on attacking the goat, cruelly, providing a repast that need not have happened? It didn’t require fresh meat for Umm Mansur to lay a table bursting with delicacies. That was the way this generous, upright woman always did things.
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