Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Bleeding of the Stone, by Ibrahim al-Koni

I haven't posted in a while. Two reasons -- one, Larry and I have been very ill with some stupid respiratory virus that someone so nicely shared with us; two, the other day I was scrolling through facebook and saw this

from Wittitudes

and thought to myself, yep -- that is definitely me, since as I've discovered,  recent events have yielded a multitude of WTF moments that I'm struggling to cope with, bringing on stress-induced lethargy, which is a struggle to try to overcome. Anyway, the point is that it's been a beyond-tough month.

The Bleeding of the Stone is the work of Libyan author Ibrahim al-Koni.  Mr. al-Koni, according to the blog Arabic Literature (In English), was born in 1948,
"raised in Libya's Fezzan region among nomadic, Tamasheq-speaking Tuareg. It wasn't until he was twelve that he began to formally study Arabic. He went on to study literature in Russia, after which he moved to Poland, and then finally to Switzerland in 1994." 
He has won several awards, among them the Swiss State Award (1995) for this book,  the Japanese Translation Committee Award for his Gold Dust (1997), and in 2010, the Arab Novel Award. His novel New Waw won him a place on the shortlist for the National Translation Award in 2015, the same year he found himself as a finalist for the Man International Booker Prize.

In general, as noted by Ursula Lindsey  at The Nation, al-Koni's entire "oeuvre"
"charts the disintegration of the country's nomadic, tribal and mythic culture under the impact of foreign intrusions and then of oil wealth."
Interlink Books, 2013
translated by May Jayyusi and Christopher Tingley
136 pp

"Only through dust will the son of Adam be filled." 

Set in Libya, Asouf grew up living with his family "alone in the desert, alone in all their movements and wanderings." He can't even remember a time when he lived around "human neighbors," and even as a child when another family came to settle close to where Asouf's family, his father decided it was time to move on. He often said that  he'd "rather have jinn as neighbors than people," and that all he wants is peace.  As Asouf was growing up, he'd learned how to hunt, how to break wild camels, and how to hunt the waddan (the moufflon referred to on the cover).  As an adult, Asouf continues to live alone in the desert, still shunning most human interaction, even though he has been given a job by the Italian government  as a tour guide and "guardian of the Wadi Matkhandoush." His task is to escort people who come to view the sacred stones and ancient paintings in the rocks.  However, when two hunters arrive demanding that Asouf take them to find the waddan,  he does all he can to protect these creatures that his father had told him were "possessed by the spirit of the mountains."  But more importantly, his resistance to the hunters comes after his "transformation" following a life-changing event in which he  sees his father's eyes in one of these waddan, leading him to realize that "He, his father, and the mighty were one now. Nothing could separate them."

The Bleeding of the Stone pulls in the reader not just because of  the story, but also because of the lovely blending of mysticism, Sufism, Islam, the Old Testament, and traditional beliefs.  Additionally, some of its chapters have epigraphs from such thinkers as Herodotus, Sophocles, and Ovid that set the stage for what's to come within.   Sofia Samatar, writing for The Interstitial Arts Foundation explains that the book can be read as an "ecological parable and also a portrait of the desert as a rich and vital center,"  but it is also a story that pits the traditional world against the worst of  modern intrusions, and a novel that speaks to resistance. Finally, it is just flat out beautiful in terms of the writing. I really wish I could give this novel the treatment it deserves, but I'd be here a long time so check out the links at the end of this post.

 The Bleeding of the Stone is not going to be for everyone -- it's a very out-of-the-box kind of read that absolutely demands reader participation and lots of think time,  but it is an incredibly powerful novel that I can most heartily recommend.

a couple of things:
1. an interview with the author
2. one of the best articles I've found on this novel by Sofia Samatar -- at 

 fiction from Libya 

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