Maps of Jonas

MapsOfJonasKharaet younes
HOSNI Mahmoud
Dar al saqi, Beirut, Lebanon, 2018, 144 pages



A 33 year-old man, a little girl, an old stranded, dying whale, and a blind cat: Their fates are tied in this post-apocalyptic world where people have suddenly forgotten what it means to be human.

The once fisherman’s Island just across the river was transformed into the preferred living place for the neighboring city’s ruling class. Yunus (Jonas) just moved to the island. He is the new librarian and has been offered a room on the premises. He had just gotten accustomed to his new home when on the morning of the Winter solstice, everything started to go terribly wrong. No one came in that day, and when he went out for a walk, the shops were all closed, and there was no one to be seen. When he finally came across a man, he was eager to ask him what was going on. Except that the man was terrified, and incapable of uttering a single word. In his pajamas, barefoot, he looked like he had lost his mind. The man, Yunus realizes, is none but the city’s governor. He was expected to give a speech earlier that day, and never showed on the radio, leaving everyone at the station confused and worried. Yunus takes him in. Things don’t improve the next day, and Yunus finds a 10 year old girl who tells him that her parents had woken up dumb, and scared, before leaving the house. They have been missing since. Yunus takes her in as well, and starts thinking of a solution as food supplies will surely dry up soon.

The governor disappears, and Yunus sights other people in the island, the behavior of which is strange and worrisome. It is terribly cold, and the sky is grey and heavy, but it hasn’t rained in a long time. Meanwhile, on the other side of the river, people are worried. No one has crossed the bridges from or to the island in days. No one has opened the highly secured electric gates from inside island. Attempts from the military to force the gates have failed, and the bridges have been destroyed. Oula, Yunus’ former lover, is worried about him. She’s been having these dreams again, dreams she had during her seven years with Yunus: She was a blind cat, that was hearing a far away soft wailing. Inside the island, Yunus also thinks of Oula. He also, has been having these dreams again, those he used to have when they were together: He was a blind whale, who spoke a language no one understood. He was utterly lonely in the big dark ocean, and could only sing his song in the hope that someone would hear him.

At the same time, a whale gets stranded in the river between the island and the city. Why has it come here, so close to land, taking the risk of getting stranded in a river that looks like it’s drying up? What is this voice it has been hearing? A familiar voice, as if someone was finally understanding its song.

Yunus decides to take action. The water level is now low enough at the river mouth for them to attempt crossing it to get to the city. This is when he sees the stranded whale, like a reflection of himself. While he saves the little girl, his own fate seems tied to that of the whale. In this very original first work, Hosni succeeds in creating an unsettling novel. The reader follows Yunus and his attempts to save himself and the little girl with great interest and anxiety. The novel has mythical resonances, depicting a modern world which seems beyond salvation.

Translation sample

Translation sample

Translation by Robin Moger

I die.

Stretched out here in the river’s shallow channel. We are both near death, this river and I. I cannot fill my lungs to draw a breath. My skin consumed by red sores, my stores of energy running away and my blubber breaking down, all to keep me alive. Why do I not surrender to death? Why prolong this dying? Why do I try to stay alive?

I am dizzy. For long stretches I moan. There are people standing on one bank of the river. They are watching me, and there is no pity in their eyes. Nothing in their glassy eyes but a blend of fear, revulsion, and bleak, black emptiness.

The fault was mine. Swimming towards the estuary, a bar of silt from its mouth suddenly shallowing the water: I knew that if I swum on I would never swim out again. The sand bar snagged me. Exhaustion mounted. It was night when I lost consciousness. And now here I am, stretched out, the first strands of daylight still scant and drowsy, and me, still struggling to rouse myself from my coma.

Heavy cloud cover, but no rain. The tree line along the river bank is a dense but faded green. And I am here, in a river, whose waters bleed away.

I know this place, somehow. I have the feeling that there is someone here I know. But how can it be, when I have never been near sweet water in my life?

How can it be that I, now dying, now approaching the end of his life, of his wanderings, feels he knows a place he has never been. How is it that I feel that there is someone here, a stranger, someone I have never laid eyes on in my life, reaching out towards me?

And what of this sound, this soft sound coming from everywhere and wrapping me round? Whence this hum, borne out on a slender voice that is surely the voice of a woman? And what do they mean, the words she sings over and over? “Lachrymosa,” she sings: “Lachrymosa, lachrymosa…” What can it mean?

How is it that I, an aging humpbacked whale, dragging himself dying through the first week of his seventy-first year, a whale who’s never known sweet inland waters, cast himself into estuary’s snare for the sake of something he cannot describe? How it is he can hand himself up to something of which he knows nothing but the vaguest intimations?



RAYA represents Dar al saqi for the world rights of this title.

Check Mahmoud Hosni‘s page for an update on the rights situation of this title.

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