Book Recommendation | When the Haboob Sings by Nejoud Al-Yagout #literaryfiction #fiction #bookboost
Title: When the Haboob Sings
Author: Nejoud Al-Yagout
Genre: Literary Fiction/Cultural
Publisher: Gatekeeper Press
When Dunya Khair writes a controversial article in the newspaper challenging the status quo in her country, the response--ranging from adulation to death threats--is swift. Faced with the dissolution of familial ties and the prospective collapse of her marriage, alongside a looming nervous breakdown, Dunya's consequent actions exemplify both the strength and frailty of the human spirit. When the Haboob Sings paints a poignant picture of a woman whose unshakeable resolve to preserve her authenticity costs her more than she ever imagined.
How did I get here? How did I become a prisoner in a cell? This here cell, my transient home. This here cell, which I will try to describe to you. People treasure descriptions, do they not? I have been here in this place long enough to describe it pretty well for years to come, and it is easy for me to do so now, as I am here, inside it. In this cell with its rusty bars, a window I cannot reach, and the sun’s rays beating down on the dust-filled corner of the room. This cell, with its leaky faucet, a sink with peeling skin beneath its waist, a squat toilet, a showerhead dangling from a plastic hose, grey-tiled floors (or maybe faded black), and smelling of urine and Dettol.
Here I stand, kneel, lie down, and walk around, with fists clenched and muscles tightened, glancing around at my home of the last two months with cockroaches for roommates. Last night there were two. One of them is dead now: I beat it with the shoe of the cleaning lady who brought my dinner last night. She was too scared to kill it herself. The other one is lingering around, its antennae swaying, dancing to a beat I cannot hear, making its way slowly, ever so slowly, toward my bare feet that are much in need of a pedicure, might I add. I need a shoe. The wardens took my slippers away when I first came here. Do not ask me why. They can hardly be used as weapons. And besides, I would not use a weapon even if I had one; violence is not in my core. At least, I do not think it is. I read once that we all have violent tendencies, and in moments of survival or protecting our loved ones, they rage to the surface. I do not want to think about that right now.
I am less restless than I was earlier this morning. I always wake up nervous here, with heart palpitations, sweaty skin, and even tremors sometimes. I am well taken care of, but the sense of anticipation of leaving this hellhole grips me each and every day. However, after I splash my face with water and brush my teeth, I feel better. Something about water, something.
Here I am sitting on the makeshift bed, a mattress with holes, a haven for bedbugs. Oh, in that case, I must have more unwelcome roommates! There is a sorry excuse for a bedcover and a thin, flimsy off-white bed-sheet. The pillow has no case. There is a prayer mat, with a praying robe that I have not touched, but on nights when I feel cold, I slip into the robe and sleep in it.
Here I am, bent over, and resting my chin upon my knees. I am too scared to kill the cockroach today. That is the thing when it comes to killing insects, for me at least: sometimes I have the courage, and sometimes the fear is overwhelming. I can feel the fear reverberating inside of me. Constricted throat, shortness of breath, yes. But I can pat myself on the back for having killed one of them. That is an accomplishment. It is now a battle between this one and me. I am vying for sole occupancy.
Once in a while, a mouse passes by. On nights when my chest hurts because the anxiety is overwhelming, I wait for the pitter-patter of feet, not out of loneliness, but out of sheer terror that I will wake up to a mouse staring me in the face. Best to stay awake, I tell myself when the paranoia engulfs me. But sleep always wins in the end, and so far I have not woken up to a mouse on my bed, thank God.
I watch the cockroach walk slowly, stop, walk slowly, stop, walk—nay, glide—toward the bars and make its exit. At this moment in time, a cockroach has more dignity, more freedom than me. A cockroach has the right to leave. And I, a human being, am confined to a cell, at the mercy and whim of my fellow men.
But let me ask again, for your sake, of course: how did I get here?
Well, to answer that, we must go back in time. Say, two years? Yes, that is about right. That is not when the writing started. Oh, I have not told you about that yet. Sorry, my brain is so scattered sometimes. I have mentioned the insects and the mouse before I even introduced myself. Yes, I am a writer, a published one at that: I have not written novels or poetry, or any kind of book so to speak, but I have written articles. I started writing when I was fourteen, and publicly when I was twenty-five, for local magazines and newspapers. (Be patient, I will hint at my country of birth soon.) I am now thirty-two. That is eighteen years of writing, and seven—going on eight—years of sharing my work with the public. I know age matters. I will be the first to admit that I always want to know someone’s age. Whether or not a person’s age should matter, though, is beyond me: I have never found an answer that did not lead to another question. But I never ask an adult. It is considered impolite, no? Anyway, I am thirty-two years of age, and it was only a couple of years ago when my writing started getting attention.
Before becoming famous (or infamous, depending on your view of my story), I wrote about the environment, I wrote about hobbies, I wrote about voting, and I wrote about education. But something inside me, or outside me, was shaping my destiny, nudging me toward the path of writing about subjects that were unwritten about where I live. However, at the time, I was too afraid to venture beyond what was considered safe writing.
Nejoud Al-Yagout, a Kuwaiti writer, moved to China with her family when she was two months old. She spent her childhood and teenage years in Italy, UAE, and Pakistan. Al-Yagout is the founder of Co-Exist Kuwait, an initiative to bridge cultural, racial, ideological, social, and financial divides in her country where she is based. When The Haboob Sings is her second novel.
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