It's clear right in the very first chapter of Nejoud Al-Yagout's new novel-in-stories -Motorbikes and Camels-, when we listen in to a group of teenage Muslim girls talk about how to best take ecstasy and have premarital sex without getting caught, that the author is not that interested in presenting a shining example of the piousness of Islam; instead, this is a look at the practical realities of modern flawed humans when it comes to this ancient and sometimes antiquated religion, a thoroughly 21st-century story from this celebrated Kuwaiti poet and feminist pioneer.
A series of interlinked short stories, where we hop from one young person to the next within a group of acquaintances at a Muslim university, the novel is a soap-operaish yet deeply character-based look at the contemporary relationship problems inherent in a society that still largely practices arranged marriages; one person we follow is a closeted homosexual, one a secret alcoholic, one from an enlightened family but who suffers from everyone else's disdain for them, a series of warm bodies passing each other in the night while trying to figure out their place in their newly adult world. Their tales are always engaging and believable, and I suspect will be especially enjoyable to other young Muslims who find themselves in these same situations.
Granted, the book has its problems, mostly related to this poetry veteran still finding her mature voice as a writer of prose; the dialogue can sometimes get stilted, the pacing is often uneven (in the first story, we watch a girl lose her virginity, get married, get divorced, go through a spiritual reawakening, then eventually become a New Age vegan, all in the space of a few thousand words), and I wish that Al-Yagout had established its Middle Eastern setting earlier in the manuscript than she does. (This story comes across very differently if imagining it taking place within a diasporic community in a secular Western country; for example, we don't even find out that alcohol is illegal in whatever place they are until almost a quarter of the way through the book, which gives a whole different flavor to the early scenes where 19-year-olds swig whiskey before having sloppy, drunk sex.)
Still, though, I was highly entertained by -Motorbikes and Camels-, as well as legitimately moved in several sections, an earnest and relatively daring look at Muslims who are always in their hearts trying to do the right thing, but who so often get sidetracked by hormones, controlled substances, politics, and the other diversions of our modern times. It comes generally recommended, and especially to other young Muslims looking for something highly relatable.
- Paperback: 280 pages
- Publisher: Luminare Press (8 September 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 194473399X
- ISBN-13: 978-1944733995
- Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.8 x 21.6 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 426 g
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