Wolves tells dark but compelling modern Arab tale

I read Wolves of the Crescent Moon with low expectations, assuming it was an objectionable novel written for that sake alone. I was surprised.

Yousef Al-Mohaimeed’s novel of chance inspires and evokes a response to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s style and Tony Morrison’s content. The book details the lives of various Arabs and Africans, but converges on the histories of three individuals: a Bedouin tribesman without his left ear, a Sudanese native enslaved and brought to Riyadh and an orphan boy, the product of lust, without an eye. The plot yearns for resolution for these characters, and in many ways, achieves it.

Wolves of the Crescent Moon is Al-Mohaimeed’s first book to be published outside the Middle East. The book is a translation from the original Arabic by Anthony Calderbank. It is banned in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but the Diwan al Arab magazine and the Egyptian Journalist’s Union both appreciated the writer’s contributions to Arab culture and literature. His praise is not unfounded.

Al-Mohaimeed’s careful orchestration of physical and personal characteristics is unique and refreshing. Most will not be surprised by certain eventualities, but instead amused. Unfortunately, the actual surprises do manage to slap the reader in the face, dealing with gore and violence as much as rape and inhumanity. The squeamish and easily upset should read with care, as Al-Mohaimeed appropriately brings about the horrors of the lives of these characters.

The author is a maestro in style as much as he is in plot and story. His diction is easy to follow, and he seems to tell the story while simultaneously writing it. For me, the book took less than three hours to read, which is good for a 174 page book.

This novel was probably not meant to be some literary masterpiece feigning intelligence, but an expository didactic, revealing the darkest sectors of a land ridden with darkness.

His descriptions of the environments and of the characters are flawlessly done.

Al-Mohaimeed makes very frequent references to Arab culture, from clothes to botany, but the glossary in the back may not be necessary because of how seamlessly he integrates the cultural references. Still, some credit should be given to the translator.

Al-Mohaimeed crafted a timeless sculpture of the modern Arab world—or rather, the clashes of coping with modernity in a culture infused with bourgeois classes dealing with the paupers and peasants of society. Slavery, rape and hypocrisy consistently plague the unfortunate, but for some reason, Al-Mohaimeed’s storytelling ability instills the reader with a sense of hope, or at least contentment. Though the author includes culture, he does not rely on it for entertainment, and while there is much controversy, the book is by no means a gimmick.

For an easy read or for an insightful piece of prose, most people should be pleased with Al-Mohaimeed’s masterpiece, and hopefully a long line of literature from a writer who may be one of the most prolific of our time.