Sunday, 6 July 2014
A Land without Jasmine
Ajdi Muhammad Abduh al-Ahdal
This short story, from the Yemen is a tale that can be read in one sitting; indeed it probably should be to get the full effect of the moral. It is told in the first person, however, that person changes dependent on the stage of the story. We hear from that person only once, each time moving the story of the missing girl on, or not.
The story begins with the twenty year old girl telling us what life is like for her in modern day Yemen. The narrative tells of the way of life in the country, the differences between the lives of men and women and briefly explores the interaction between the old Yemen and modern ways of life. But, the girl is to disappear...
Enter the detective, eager at first to explain the disappearance, but has to work in the face of the girl’s male family members, all carrying machine guns and threatening to take the law (the old law that is) into their own hands. We meet the shopkeeper from across the road, who spends time ogling the young girls, the lecturer from the college who openly admits to leering and intimidating his female students; and we meet the young boy, implicated by the fact that he loved his next door neighbour and followed her wherever she went. As the story, and time moves on, the family deal with her loss in different ways, and we hear from the father, who will kill his daughter if she has allowed herself to be defiled by kidnappers or rapists, to mother, who is not permitted to openly express her fears, horror and grief.
The ending of the story portrays the stark differences between Yemen and countries I am familiar with. I’m not going to put a spoiler in, but it did make me wonder if firstly, imagination of the writer has taken a step too far, or if the process of moving on was still something that happened in the modern day country. I m at no stage saying it’s a good or bad process, just one I have never encountered before.
This tale is written in an unemotional, stark way, but the narrative is alive with emotion, fear, hope despair and anger. The writing is taut, barely a wasted word; each sentence serves to move the story along, or tell the reader something about past or present Yemen. There is a clever talent that can look into the inner thoughts of a young lady and then switch, successfully, to the workings of a parent, policeman, soothsayer, young boy and Imam, all with the same depth of character. All this can be found in a book that will take no more than a couple of hours to read.
I do recommend this story; so put aside your prejudices, your preconceived ideas of this part of the world, and prepare to have your knowledge base broadened.