In the National today, Novelist Robin Yassin-Kassab reviews Saud Alsanousi’s The Bamboo Stalk, winner of the IPAF in 2013, which has been translated to English by Jonathan Wright.

Set in the Philippines and Kuwait, the book explores the  phenomenon of foreign workers i noted Gulf and the problems of racism and identity conflict experienced by José/Isa, the son of Josephine, a migrant housemaid from the Philippines and Rashid, the spoilt son of a wealthy Kuwaiti family.

Read an extract in English from the book here. 

Yassin-Kassab writes appreciatively that Alsanousi “with great wit and lightness of touch, portrays the inner dynamics of not one but two families, and of at least two cultures,” describing the novel as ” an inquiry into personal, national and spiritual identity” and “a coming of age story”.

Through Isa’s eyes we interrogate all manner of social peculiarity, from Sunni-Shia differences to the casual use of English in Arab conversation. Isa is privileged and cursed to hear from all perspectives, including the servant class, treated “as if we have no feelings and don’t understand anything”.

It makes for funny as well as uncomfortable reading.

Boyd Tonkin in The Independent similarly applauds Alsanousi’s “brave and compassionate novel” as giving a voice to the “discreet legion of Asian servants and workers” in the Gulf.

Through José’s ever-curious eyes, Alsanousi dissects the strict hierarchies of Kuwaiti society. Individuals do show affection, but social norms reject the half-caste kid. He feels torn between faiths as well as cultures, striving to marry the Catholicism of his childhood with a tolerant Islam but fearing that he must become “the prophet of a religion that was mine alone”.

Saud Al Sanousi – International Prize For Arabic Fiction: 2013 Shortlist from IPAF on Vimeo.

An interview with the author on Idha’at.

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