Wednesday, 16 December 2015

The Bleeding of the Stone by Ibrahim al-Koni

The moufflon, a wild sheep prized for its meat, continues to survive in the remote mountain desert of southern Libya. Only Asouf, a lone bedouin who cherishes the desert and identifies with its creatures, knows exactly where it is to be found. Now he and the moufflon together come under threat from hunters who have already slaughtered the once numerous desert gazelles. The novel combines pertinent ecological issues with a moving portrayal of traditional desert life and of the power of the human spirit to resist.
Goodreads Description

I try to bring you as varied a selection of great magic-realist novels as possible. This is no exception: a magic realist novel from "Libya's leading novelist."

Reading this novel, as the news is full of the expansion of the brutal intolerance of Daesh into Syria and Libya, I was struck by how abhorrent this book would be to them. The Sufi mysticism that inspires The Bleeding of the Stone, the fusion of Islam with pre-Islamic beliefs, the animalist magic of the moufflon (wadden in Arabic) and gazelles, all would be unacceptable, indeed heretical. Undoubtedly the gentle pacificism of the central character the old goatherd Asouf would be unacceptable. There is even a clear reference to the death of Christ in the final scene - the bleeding of the stone. And I wonder whether the world and beliefs described by al-Koni have survived. 

The novel gives you an insight into the harsh desert life of the Bedouin - the brutal beauty of the land in which they live and the constant proximity of death. Be warned there are some gruesome scenes in this book - especially the accounts of the deaths of Asouf's parents. The desert is a world of balance in which the Bedouin play their part. Into this world come three men - the two Arab hunters that Asouf meets and a white colonel who commissions them to hunt for him. The colonel supplies the hunters with the means (guns, helicopters, vehicles) to slaughter all the desert gazelles and then requires them to move on to the sacred moufflon. Nature's balance is broken and a sacrifice is called for: redemption will be at hand when the sacred wadden bleeds and blood issues from the stone.

Although a slim book (only 135 pages) The Bleeding of the Stone gives the reader much to think about and enjoy.


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