Jokes for the Gunmen – Mazen Maarouf

This is one of the books I picked up during my trip to Dubai in July. Given my destination, I decided to buy books from the Middle East. I admit I picked this one up as my next read because it was only 160 pages and I was behind on my 20 Books of Summer challenge (which I’ve given up on by now, it’s just not going to happen).

It is a collection of short stories, not my favorite thing in the world, but the title lured me in with its absurdity. Most of the stories take place in unknown city and country that is being savaged by war. In some of them, it is in the background in others it is front and center. I’m not sure which one is worse.

The opening and title story is also the longest. It is narrated by a boy who tries to save his father from getting beaten up by the said gunmen. He is small, his view of the world is simplistic, so he thinks that if his father has a glass eye he will be safe. He also tries to hire bodyguards for him. The story is told without much emotion. The raging war is taken for granted, for the boy knows nothing else, there was no peace during his life. When he loses his brother this is also taken in stride, everyone lost someone. And I think it is this unknowing acceptance that has the most chilling effect. The war becomes just a fact of life, it is normalized.

The next three stories are also about war from various perspectives. I found the one about cinema chilling, possibly again because it is told from a child’s perspective but this time the child is not only an observer but the main character in it.

There are stories about demented mothers, missing limbs, people being in other people’s dreams. They are all verging on the thin border between tragic and funny. They are painful to read, but still, some of them make us laugh. What surprised me is how brutal they are, often violent, but it’s not even about the violence. What shocked me was the casual cruelty.

I”m not sure whether I am convinced by the collection as a whole, but it certainly shows the potential of the author but also of some of the stories to develop further. Others may be only vignettes, but some ask for continuation.

What other books from the Middle East would you recommend?

This is book #8 of my 20 Books of Summer hosted by Cathy at 746books.
See my list as it grows here.

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska @vkphotospace.com 

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