Jokes for The Gunman by Mazen Maarouf (translated from the Arabic by Jonathan Wright, Man Booker International Prize 2019)

9781846276675

Here we have a collection of stories told from the perspective of the young. The narrators seem to believe in their ability to overcome the death and fear which surrounds them. Their wishful thinking wounds me in its futility.

One of them thinks he will be able to buy a glass eye for his father; at the end of the story we learn the son must wear a glass eye after losing his in a game where a ball strikes him in the head. My sorrow for him is mitigated by the fact that he wanted to sell his deaf twin brother to get the money for his father’s eye.

Another father who plays the gramophone in a bar loses both his arms when a bomb strikes. He asks his son to give him one of his arms, for him being reduced to one is better than the father having none.

In “Biscuit”, a son drives his mother to a care-home, not because she has Alzheimer’s, “but to make sure she goes on believing the biscuit story.” A story he told her when an elderly man was killed at an intersection as they were passing through. The fantastic story he told involved this man “hopping nimbly between the vehicles, avoiding one car, dodging and weaving, whirling around, spinning like a wheel, doing splits and throwing feeble punches.” Whenever the old man touched the side of a car, he would turn it into a biscuit. Making it much more palatable a situation, of course, than the man spinning futively to his death.

“Aquarium” is about a clot of blood, which could or could not be a foetus. The couple loves it, and names it Munir, and keeps it in an aquarium. Of course there had to be such a story, in times like these when people don’t seem to know when life starts.

As you can see, not all of the stories are about war, although most of them are. They are interesting, and bizarre, but not nearly as dreadful as Samanta Schweblin’s collection reviewed earlier.

It’s interesting that two of the thirteen books on the long list are short stories. I always think the novel has so much more power.

(Thanks to Granta for the copy of Jokes for the Gunmen by Mazen Maarouf to review.)

3 thoughts on “Jokes for The Gunman by Mazen Maarouf (translated from the Arabic by Jonathan Wright, Man Booker International Prize 2019)”

  1. While reading your review of Jokes for the Gunman I came back to the title…maybe it is just me and my sensibility, it is an unfortunate title for an Arab writer these sad days. How could the author know……😞

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think the title comes from several stories. In one, the father is told by the gunmen that he must tell them a joke that will really make them laugh, every day. He and his son stay up all night trying to think of good jokes with a good punchline. The title is really quite ironic, as of course, none of the stories are funny.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I guess my sensibility addresses the Arab community in New Zeland and all over the world. Arabs these days I think would take great offense at the title, specifically in NZ as we are all regardless of our origins…as a humanitarian the title seems a hindrance to success.

    Like

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