Sunday, August 3, 2014

On the Coffee Table: Zakaria Tamer

Title: Tigers on the Tenth Day and Other Stories
Author: Zakaria Tamer
via Tower Books
Syrian Zakaria Tamer is one of the most important living writers in the Arab world.  His short stories - and they are, indeed, quite short - have the feel of folk tales.  Most in this collection are obvious allegories for cruel, oppressive government.  The "Tigers on the Tenth Day" tale itself reveals how the will of a tiger in the zoo is broken down to the point where his cage is no longer necessary.  He instead becomes a citizen.

Another story, "The Ancient Gate," addresses western involvement in the Middle East.  In it, a drunken blond soldier confronts a man and woman in the street.  The situation turns ugly quickly.  Bear in mind, the English-language collection was published in 1985, well before the first Gulf War.

The stories generally have a darker tone but much of the imagery is quite lovely.  From "A Lone Woman":
Breathing heavily, motionless, Aziza felt her fear dwindle.  Leisurely, she experienced a delirium with a new flavour.  Smiling, laughing she beheld white stars and a dark blue sky, yellow plains and a sun of red fire.  Aziza heard the purling of a distant river.  The river.  Far away it was.  It would not remain far away.  She laughed joyfully.  Sadness was a child who ran away from her.
The collection was translated by Denys Johnson-Davies.


  1. Beautiful line about sadness.

    1. Isn't it? This is not the most cheerful book but some of the lighter moments are truly elegant.

  2. The writing is almost poetic. Sounds like an interesting book!

    1. Arabic literature has a rich poetic tradition that has undoubtedly influenced fiction writers considerably.

  3. This writer is uniquely elegant. Lovely!