“The blood of the setting sun suddenly spilled out on the western horizon like that of millions of people who have died in some violent war that has broken out between Earth and Heaven.”
This is a beautifully written and beautifully translated Arabic-language novel from an Egyptian writer in the 1960s. Our narrator has recently returned to his home village in somewhat rural Egypt and is trying to become more and more accustomed to life there. He’s spent the last some years away in England being educated and finds himself forever a foreigner in England and increasingly an outsider in his homeland. The central conflict of the novel involves a recently widowed woman being forced into marriage with an older man and our narrator’s newfound horror or at least moral disorder regarding this event. He’s caught between the values of the West and his own originary values in Egypt. And this is not an uncomplicated struggle because we know from both his experiences and our own that the West owns no monopoly on morality.
The seemingly uncomplicated solution would be for him to marry this woman and allow her whatever freedoms she chooses to avoid her marrying the more awful man. There appears a set of complications we otherwise didn’t know about late in the novel to challenge this.
There’s also an amazing scene where he’s looking at his bookshelf and rereading all the titles in philosophy, politics, history, scholarship, literature etc and he finds himself horrified to not only have no Arabic language books, but to even have books translated from Arabic to English. This is a short and bitter and wonderful novel.