FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Love in an Inhumane Country

by CHARLES R. LARSON

How many times has the Romeo and Juliet story been retold? Having asked that question, I’m not certain that Eritrean writer Sulaiman Addonia had Shakespeare in mind when he wrote his evocative story of two star-crossed lovers, not in Eritrea but in Saudi Arabia. However, the publishers of The Consequences of Love highlight the connection to a story that depicts the near impossibility of love in such a stultifying and repressive country.

The young lovers, Naser and Fiore, have Eritrean parentage, but the obstacle they encounter as foreigners attempting to fulfill their love is not familial but religious: Islamic fundamentalism.

Naser and his younger brother, Ibrahim, were sent out of Eritrea by their mother, who feared that they would be killed during the war with Ethiopia. After a brief period of time in Sudan they were sent on to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to be taken care of by their mother’s brother. The boys are ten and thirteen, respectively, when they meet their uncle. He turns out to be not much of a protector; in fact he uses Naser to pay off his obligation to his kafeel, or sponsor, which every non-Saudi has to have in order to reside in the country. It’s an insidious practice, as we shortly see, of turning young boys into sexual toys for married Saudi men to exploit in the most degrading manner. Naser’s uncle’s kafeel rapes the teenager, and there’s little that he as a youth and as an immigrant can do about it.

By the time of the rape, Naser has already observed the hypocrisy surrounding him no matter where he goes and what he observes. The country’s religious police are everywhere, like maggots living off the flesh of the young and the innocent. If the police catch a young man and a woman together, the couple can be carted off and imprisoned, flogged, even stoned to death or beheaded. The Islamic imams have one constant litany: women are evil, and they constantly try to tempt innocent men. (It’s really the opposite, but that’s a moot point in a society as misogynistic as this one.)

Worse, men constantly abuse younger men and boys up until the time of their marriages. So ubiquitous is this practice that—in spite of what the Koran professes—one might conclude that homosexual sex is preferable to heterosexual sex. There are even cafes with rooms set off for men (of all ages) to have sex together.

All of this duplicity is quite horrifying, making Saudi fundamentalism—in this novel at least–a fraud. Other aspects of the repressive society are equally revealing: western pornography, obviously also forbidden, appears to be everywhere. Young men sniff glue and drink perfume (because of its alcohol content) in order to get high. But, in this novel, homosexual activities take center stage, providing an ironic twist to the title. One of Naser’s friends explains to him, “My dear, in a world without women and in the absence of female glamour, boys like you are the perfect substitute. Why hide your attractiveness and your tender physique like a veiled woman? You are the closest my customers have to a beautiful and sensual person roaming freely in their world. So why sit on your beauty like a bird without wings, when you can fly?”

What’s a pretty boy to do? Fortunately, Naser gets a job washing cars after his uncle refuses to “protect” him. And then the encounter with the person he hopes is a beautiful young woman begins. I say “hopes” because the person who drops a note on the ground near him is wrapped in an abaya; all Naser can see are the slits that reveal her eyes. She might be ugly or, worse, she might be a man dressed like a woman so that the religious police can trap him.

The machinations needed to resolve this mystery are as inventive and elaborate as those that Shakespeare used in Romeo and Juliet. That said, it should also be stated that Addonia’s novel is as clever and imaginative as it is critical of Saudi hypocritical morality. Once communication between Naser and Fiore begins, the suspense is ratcheted up and this astonishingly beautiful tale works its way to what can only be described as a breathless conclusion as events and their consequences become bleaker and bleaker. You can’t help asking yourself when the final tragic coincidence will be revealed. What’s more, there’s even a minor character—a blind imam—whose role is almost the reverse of the well-intending Friar Lawrence in Shakespeare’s masterpiece.

The lovers finally do discover of each other’s identity. The abaya does conceal a beautiful young woman, who has been smothered as much as Naser by Saudi repression. Yet finally Addonia’s title becomes as ominous as it has been since one’s first glance at the book jacket. You will say, of course, that all love comes with consequences, yet they are rarely as bleak as those portrayed in this ingenious and disturbing story of love in a diseased society. As Naser observes, “I was in Saudi Arabia, where love had been erased from the dictionary, yet somehow I had found a way to express my passion for another.”

Sulaiman Addonia is the lucky one. The jacket on the book says that—like his main character—he fled Ethiopia following the “Om Hajar massacre in 1976,” then went to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia but, later, with his brother “successfully sought asylum in the U.K. as underage immigrants.” So he escaped—twice, one might say. And then he wrote this sensuous account of love in an inhumane country.

The Consequences of Love
By Sulaiman Addonia
Random House, 309 pp., $25.00

CHARLES R. LARSON is Professor of Literature at American University in Washington, D.C.

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 23, 2017
John Wight
Trump’s Inauguration: Hail Caesar!
Mark Schuller
So What am I Doing Here? Reflections on the Inauguration Day Protests
Patrick Cockburn
The Rise of Trump and Isis Have More in Common Than You Might Think
Binoy Kampmark
Ignored Ironies: Women, Protest and Donald Trump
Gregory Barrett
Flag, Cap and Screen: Hollywood’s Propaganda Machine
Gareth Porter
US Intervention in Syria? Not Under Trump
L. Ali Khan
Trump’s Holy War against Islam
Gary Leupp
An Al-Qaeda Attack in Mali:  Just Another Ripple of the Endless, Bogus “War on Terror”
Norman Pollack
America: Banana Republic? Far Worse
Bob Fitrakis - Harvey Wasserman
We Mourn, But We March!
Kim Nicolini
Trump Dump: One Woman March and Personal Shit as Political
William Hawes
We Are on Our Own Now
Martin Billheimer
Last Tango in Moscow
Colin Todhunter
Development and India: Why GM Mustard Really Matters
Mel Gurtov
Trump’s America—and Ours
David Mattson
Fog of Science II: Apples, Oranges and Grizzly Bear Numbers
Clancy Sigal
Who’s Up for This Long War?
Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail