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.
-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
Many Americans are unfamiliar with literature from
I think that literature in
Did you have formal training as a writer? Are there writers, particularly from the
No, I haven’t had formal training as a writer, because we don’t have these kinds of programs like you do in the western world. But I have had the opportunity to learn from such great teachers as Charles Dickens, William Faulkner, Balzac, and Dostoevsky. They taught me the rules of writing when I was a child. After that I continued with contemporary writers like Gabriel García Márquez, Milan Kundera, Jose Saramago, etc. I think this is brilliant training.
The novel is heavily symbolic and does not on the surface involve any scandalous or overtly political content. Why then was it banned in your home country?
It was banned in my home country because we have a strong and severe censorship regime. The Ministry of Culture in
What were the consequences of the ban for you and your work? Has your approach to writing been changed?
No, as I said I published in
How did you come up with the idea of writing about a man waiting in a bus station? Do you think of Turad as a typical protagonist?
The idea came from a man who lost his ear, and who hid it to prevent people from seeing his shame. According to the customs of the desert, if you commit a shameful act, then a part of your face, such as your nose or your ear, gets cut off. This punishment forces you to leave your tribe and your home in the desert. Then I wrote the man’s life as a flashback.
What can you tell us about the tribal life that Turad left behind? Is it common now for people from the desert to move into the city, for work or other reasons?
Yes, people do move from the desert, but far less than, say, in the 1950s and 1960s. Many people move to cities to study or work, but a lot of them find it difficult to adapt to city life. They tend to look for others like themselves, and they gather and settle in certain parts of the city. This leads to a new kind of tribal racial discrimination.
All of your characters are mired in tragedy, yet the novel manages to express hope as well. Why do you choose such dramatic back-stories for your characters? And what do you intend by placing them in such reduced circumstances?
These characters are from a lower social class. The main problem is that unfortunately many westerners, even some Arabs, think there is no poverty or unemployment in
How did you go about choosing the structure for this novel? The writing shifts in and out of different points of view, sometimes within the same page and story, much like one would find in the oral tradition. Were you purposefully trying to invoke that type of storytelling?
This is a good question. I structured the novel so that different parts of the backstory would become clear to the reader only gradually. And I wanted to give each of the three main characters a different voice. For example, Turad the Bedouin has a way of speaking that is different from that of Tawfiq the Sudanese slave. In addition, Nasir’s dairy is written in a different voice. The different ways that each of them uses language create distinct types of storytelling.
The city in the novel is like a character, imbued with a kind of romance. Can you describe your own
I think a city like
There is an implicit multiculturalism in the novel, as minor characters from
The main problem is that most of the foreigners in
This is your first novel available in the
I am very happy for that, but the most important thing is that my novel is published by Penguin. I cannot imagine my name alongside those of the great writers, such as Beckett, Joyce, Dickens, Chekhov, Dostoyevsky, Balzac, Zola, Coetzee, Paul Auster, and Nuruddin Farah. Of course I hope to see the rest of my work translated and published by my wonderful publisher.
What are you working on now? Will we see these characters, or others like them, again in your fiction?
I started to write a new novel last year. The characters are different, but they’re also living in a strictly religious society, and they’re dealing with the effects of terrorism. Most Arab writers try to write about terrorism as westerners understand it; they view the people living among them through western eyes. It is very difficult to see and talk about the tree without enough knowledge of the seed. I try to understand the religious strictness in