Sunday, March 31, 2013

Review: A Dog with No Tail by Hamdi Abu Golayyel

Title: A Dog with No Tail: A Modern Arabic Novel
Author: Hamdi Abu Golayyel
Genre: Literature
Publisher: American University in Cairo Press
Published: 2009
Pages: 160

Rating: 3 out of 10

This book was nothing like what I was expecting, or rather hoping, it to be, which is probably part of the reason for my disliking it. However, I don't think that the low rating I am giving it was undeserved.

The book jumps clumsily from scene to scene, and I was having trouble seeing how all of these things were related. Sometimes the author would describe childhood, and then adulthood, and then junior high, and then... Well, something else. I was never entirely sure what he was trying to get across to the reader. The scattered lack of structure to this book was at times bewildering, and at times frustrating.

Another confusing thing was that I was unsure whether this was an autobiography or a work of fiction. Perhaps it is a bit of both? I would find it hard to believe that out of all the names the author could have chosen for a character, it had to be Hamdi (his own name). In fact, he even mentioned that the name is an unusual one.

I would not be surprised if this book was partly, if not entirely, a reflection of the author's own life. The only thing that I enjoyed about this book was how realistic it was. As a setting, I never caught even the slightest glimpse of a vivid modern day Egypt, which really really disappointed me.
However, the reader does see a simple, honest portrayal of the main character. He is not made any grander, any more exciting, or any better of a person that what is realistic.

Although it is great for Golayyel to write a heartfelt, human main character, I often wished that he hadn't.
First of all, I did not like the character. The book started off with him smoking a joint, which pretty much left little hope for me warming to him. The rest of the story didn't help, and I began to strongly dislike him fairly early in the story, after this paragraph:

"I... resolved to overcharge him: if he agreed, he agreed. If he didn't he could go to hell.
'A meter's seven pounds,' I said, 'and seven sevens make forty-seven.'
'You mean forty-nine. Plus a pound from me makes it a square fifty.'
I wavered between delight at his generosity and resentment at his generosity and regretted not charging him more."

(pg 20).

How selfish, unreasonable, and ungrateful!

Another reason that I wish that the author had not concentrated so hard on writing a completely realistic book was because it was just that - too realistic. Not that I especially mind delving into a character's head, but couldn't something have happened? Couldn't there have been some sort of problem that the plot revolved around?

Well, that would have been pretty hard to do, I suppose, because there was no plot. None whatsoever.

All of these things plus a few more annoyances, such as the use of slang ("cramping his style"), bad poetry, and chapter titles that tried so hard to be clever and failed (I Reach Out My Hand and Blush That My Hand Reaches Out), were enough to convince me to put this book into my discard pile.