Wednesday, 28 October 2020

Endings by 'Abd Al-Rahman Munif

Endings by 'Abd Al-Rahman Munif
First published in Arabic in 1977. English language translation by Roger Allen published by Quartet Books in 1988. Republished by Interlink in March 2007.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Drought. Drought again! When drought seasons come, things begin to change. Life and objects change. Humans change too, and no more so than in their moods.

It is not long before the reader of Endings discovers that this drought is not just an occasional condition but an enduring one, faced by a community on the edge of the desert, the village of al-Tiba. The exact location of this village remains undisclosed, thus, al-Tiba becomes a symbol for all villages facing nature unaided by modern technology. We hear of Abu Zaku, the village carpenter, of the Mukhtar, and above all of 'Assaf and his dog, and of the creatures which share the life of the community. But it is the people of al-Tiba as a group, who discuss and argue about their past, present, and future, and the forces of change. Endings is striking not only for its setting and narrative style, but for being a vivid commentary on the emergence of the modern city and its urban middle class.

Endings is certainly one of the stranger novels I have been lucky to encounter through my WorldReads project to read authors from all around the globe. First published in Arabic in the 1970s, it is a sharply observed portrait of an isolated desert village falling into neglect and decline as its younger generations depart in search of more affluent city lifestyles and destruction of the surrounding natural environment leaving the remaining villagers insufficiently capable of surviving a terrible drought. The novel's prose style however is close to that of traditional fairytale with very little in the way of character definition, or even naming of characters for the most part, and people's motivations often being unclear as they leap from one event to another. There is also a lengthy series of essentially unconnected short stories in the middle of the overarching tale that baffled me.

I'm not really sure how I feel about Endings overall! I did enjoy the novel itself, once it got up to speed, and was very appreciative of Munif's diversions to describe the natural world around al-Tiba. I had a strong sense of this village being a last bastion of an swiftly vanishing way of life and, on this score at least, I was strongly reminded of The Beast of Vacares by Jouse d'Arbaud which similarly portrays an almost-lost lifestyle based within a natural environment. Many of Endings scenes do portray hunting and I was interested in the obvious division in tone between descriptions of 'Assaf's lone forays on foot to bring back essential food for the villagers, and those of sporting excursions by cityfolk in their Land Rovers who are simply out to kill as many birds as they can find (animals such as gazelles already having been hunted to extinction).

Unfortunately I did struggle with several aspects of Endings. The lack of distinct characters, pretty much everyone other than 'Assaf, made it difficult for me to connect with the novel on an emotional level and I found it so hard to maintain my concentration through the thirteen short stories that I had lost my sense of Endings' atmosphere by the time the main story returned. I am glad to have had the opportunity to read Endings, but I think I needed more experience with this style of literature in order to fully understand and appreciate it.

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Abd Al-Rahman Munif / Contemporary fiction / Books from Saudi Arabia

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