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Wolves of the Crescent Moon [Paperback]

Yousef Al-Mohaimeed

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Book Description

Dec 18 2007
Banned in Saudi Arabia, this provocative, fast-paced debut novel confirms what The Washington Post reported about its award-winning author: "Yousef Al- Mohaimeed is taking on some of the most divisive subjects in the Arab world . . . in a lush style that evokes Gabriel García Márquez."

In a Riyadh bus station, a man comes across a file containing official reports about an abandoned baby. As he pieces together the shattered life documented within, a larger picture emerges of three outsiders-a Bedouin, an orphan, and a eunuch-linked by fate and trying to make lives for themselves in a predatory city.

Unfolding with the intensity of a fever dream over the course of one night, Wolves of the Crescent Moon is a novel of astonishing power and great moral consequence about a deeply traditional society confronting the modern world.


Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (Dec 18 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143113216
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143113218
  • Product Dimensions: 19.8 x 12.7 x 1.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 159 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #911,476 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Three tales of Arab outcasts make up this fresh-voiced debut novel by Saudi Arabian author Al-Mohaimeed. A one-eared Bedouin tribesman named Turad quits his humiliating 13-year job as a low-level ministry servant and ends up at the Riyadh bus station with a plan to flee, but no destination in mind. While he figures out where he wants to go, two additional voices join the narrative. One is the memory of Turad's elderly co-worker at the ministry, Tawfiq, whose sad story begins when he was a child and his Sudanese village was attacked by slave traders. Tawfiq was later captured, raped, castrated and performed the services of a eunuch until he grew too old to be of use. The other voice is from a discarded official file Turad finds at the bus station. It involves a one-eyed orphan named Nasir, who is sexually abused by the staff at the orphanage where he grows up and is eventually denied his ambition of becoming a soldier. Al-Mohaimeed's work, assisted by Calderbank's faultless translation, beautifully captures the frustrations and resentments of his tormented characters. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

"At last an authentic voice from Saudi Arabia."
-Hanan al-Shaykh, author of Women of Sand and Myrrh

"Brave and brilliant . . . A novel that sneaks up on you with its power to make you see, hear, and live the complexities of another world."
-Uzodinma Iweala, author of Beasts of No Nation

"An irresistible novel."
-Nuruddin Farah, author of Links and Knots


Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Down and Out in Riyadh Feb. 19 2008
By A. Ross - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Last year I read Girls of Riyadh, a flashy novel about the romantic trials and tribulations of a group of girls from the Saudi "velvet class" (ie. wealthy elite). It struck me as rather shallow, soap opera-inspired look at life in the kingdom despite the authenticity and popularity it garnered from being banned. I'm not sure if this latest novel from Saudi Arabia will find nearly the readership, but it certainly deserves to. Like Girls, it uses a series of characters as a lens through which to examine the kingdom, but its three co-protagonists are on the opposite end of the social spectrum from the "velvet class."

The book unfolds in short chapters which alternate between the lives of three men, each of whom has suffered a grievous bodily loss which in many ways has determined their fate. Turad is a one-eared Bedouin tribesman from the Saudi desert who moves to Riyadh to avoid becoming an outcast among his own people. There, the proud hunter and highwayman ekes out a life as a servant in a government ministry, enduring endless humiliation. One of his coworkers is Tawfiq, a elderly Sudanese man who was captured by slavers in his homeland and taken across the Red Sea. Castrated as a child, he works in a palace until 1962, when slavery is abolished and he is turned out into the streets with no prospects. Finally, there is Nasir, an orphan who lost an eye to a cat as a baby and can never overcome that tragedy.

The stories of the three men unwind in a variety of styles, from memories, storytelling, official files, and so on -- some parts are even imagined by others. Besides the physical scars, there are other recurring motifs, such as the absence of a true father to any of the three, as well as issues of naming. In Saudi society, one's name bears a great deal of information, such as class, rank, tribal affiliation, and soforth. None of the three men here can retain their true name, and this encapsulates their total disenfranchisement from society. Though the brief chapters can make for a slightly choppy read, it doesn't diminish the power of this window into the lives of Saudi Arabia's underclass. To be sure, there are tales of much greater woe to be told about the kingdom, such as the lives of those poor laborers who come from around the world to work at the lowest rungs of Saudi society, but this is a step in the right direction.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Riyadh's Lumpenproletariat... March 27 2009
By John P. Jones III - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A Saudi, a definite one, with the "al-" in front of his last name, saw and felt the anguish around him, of those more indefinite, who never had the "al", or had simply lost it, and had the empathy to write an absolutely brilliant novel about their lives, and their chance encounters. There are three principal characters: Turad, a Saudi man of the desert, a Bedouin, who was forced to leave his tribe; Hasan, a Sudanese boy captured by slavers, who would be transformed into Tawfiq, which means "good fortune," and his life would be anything but; and Nasir, another Saudi, the abandoned "fruit" of an affair, raised in an orphanage... Each of them lost a body part, in tragic circumstances. That loss has marked them, setting them apart, and was often a source of ridicule and humiliation.

None of the above characters had their physical deformity at birth. I did however compare their fate with two characters who did, both having a "club-foot," Phillip, in W. Somerset Maugham's "Of Human Bondage," and Manal, in Jocelyne J. Awad's "Khamsin." Their deformity is central to their existence; their longing to be "normal," is a persistent theme in their life. In the case of the characters from Maugham and Awad, it was a matter of nature "dealing a bad hand." For Al-Mohaimeed's characters the tragedy of their deformity is compounded, since each is due to the cruelty, greed, and callousness of humans, and need never have happened.

I love the author's prose-- his technique and style. Certainly the metaphor of the pixels being added upon each scan of the object, bringing the entire picture into focus is appropriate. At one point I wanted to shout "No" -- that is not sufficient motivation for what happened to Nasir, but then in the next chapter, on the next "scan," the motivation was amply provided. In addition, comparisons with the "magic realism" of Marquez have been made, appropriate I believe, and I would add Isabelle Allende to the list. I found the dramatic tension high throughout the novel, and it served to pull the reader inexorably from chapter to chapter. Comparisons with Paul Auster are also fitting. I loved Al-Mohaimeed's emphasis on the importance of smells, and making yet another comparison, remembered the prose of Thomas Wolfe, in "Look Homeward, Angel." I'm not surprised that another of Al- Mohaimeed's novels is entitled: "The Lure of Scent." In no way though, by making these comparisons, would I like to suggest that Al-Mohaimeed's style is derivative --- his voice is authentic, and at least for Western readers, resonates easier than, say Al Munif, who can be too ponderous and verbose. In part, this could be due to the excellent translation provided by Calderbank, but certainly not entirely.

I found one mistake in the novel, which could not be excused even by the "magic realism" technique: Tawfiq's age when he was emancipated did not jive the actual proclamation in 1962. (p 154)

Overall though, Al-Mohaimeed has written an excellent novel; to make yet one more comparison; he has portrayed the underclass in Saudi Arabia much like John Steinbeck did with America's underclass, in "The Grapes of Wrath." It is beyond the edge of sadness that his great novel is yet another book that is banned in the Kingdom; the country desperately needs great, authentic writers--they should be encouraged. Positive social development occurs when a country's authentic writers are nurtured.

As a final point, Al-Mohameed's portraits have a specific attribution to certain aspects of life in Saudi Arabia; more essentially though, he portrays the universal human condition. His book is a reminder that similar characters exist, right here in what with some conceit, we like to call "The Land of Enchantment." With the deteriorating economic conditions, there is an increase in the "Tom Jodd's" rolling along the old Route 66, hoping to find salvation in California, hoping to remove themselves from the "Hell" of their current situation. I think Al-Mohameed would understand it all well.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great story! I highly recommend it. Sept. 4 2010
By Susan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I highly recommend Wolves of the Crescent Moon. It's included in the reading list for my online course in Modern Arabic LIterature at Gateway Community College in New Haven, Connecticut. My students have the option of reading this work in a literary circle with a group of their classmates. It's been a very popular choice because it provides them with insight into a world they know very little about. Al-Mohaimeed masterfully weaves a page-turning tale. I wish I could have read it in Arabic. Some day...
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great story-telling, rare perspective, too much whining Jan. 28 2011
By John M. Haberstroh - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Sometimes the characters' whining became just too much, and it was difficult to soldier through to the end, but I'm glad I did. Although each of the three tenuously related tales is gripping and original, the best of the three is mostly saved till the end.

Al-Mahaimeed's perspective, a 'greater Middle East' classist point of view, is invaluable. Placed in Saudi Arabia, it's expressed through three men excluded from a reactionary middle-class who serve (as menially as you can imagine) the few with untold wealth.
5.0 out of 5 stars Hell on Earth April 11 2014
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Readers may find its first few chapters a bit hard to digest, but once its rhythm and passion is understood, this well -crafted, colourful novel, banned in Saudi Arabia is pure bliss. It does (and does not really) take place during a single sleepless night in a bus terminal in what main protagonist Turad calls hell on earth, the Saudi capital Riyadh. There is little action apart from Turad sitting, walking, eating something in the vicinity of the terminal. Finding an official personal file left accidentally by a bus passenger and making a phone call in the early morning are Turad’s main exertions.
But the novel reflects his roaring stream of thoughts about his own life and that of a number of persons he is or was associated with. Two deserve special mention because they are losers in life, like Turad, who is a Bedouin who robbed caravans in the desert and has since been disowned by his tribe. He has lost his standing, his place in the world. The second character is Tewfik, born Hasan, an elderly eunuch captured as a young boy in Sudan and smuggled into Saudi Arabia as a slave. He lost his parents, his manhood, his land of birth, and when slavery was abolished, the relative security its status provided…
The third person is the person in the official file, Nasir, a foundling whom a state agency provided with a name and fake parentage, which disqualifies him from ever attaining full citizenship, which require deep tribal roots and a family name starting with Al-. But what if he were adopted?
Strange and intriguing, highly re-readable, passionate, occasionally lyrical or furious, the author exposes indifference and hypocrisy in a closed conservative society thriving on exclusion and exploitation. A cry for compassion, not a political manifest. Given its modest size also highly recommended for reading groups/clubs.

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