Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Love in an Inhumane Country


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 = Twitter @LarsonChuck.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
Lara Gardner
Why I’m Not Voting
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017