Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Al-Tameema (The Amulet) - English Book Review


 
Al-Tameema – or as I would translate it “The Amulet” – is a novella by the renowned police story writer Nabil Farouk, who has published nearly 150 books – as I came to realise. The novella took me around a week to finish (since I had to skip a couple of days). It is easy and different.

The Amulet is the first science fiction novella I have read in Arabic (stories read at school excluded), and I am aware that there many Egyptian and Arab writers experimenting with the sci-fi genre in Arabic.

The novella revolves around an amulet that travels across history and the globe; we see it with people in the Ice Age, Moses and the Pharaoh, Cleopatra, King Richard the Lion Heart in Jerusalem, the British invasion in Egypt and finally it arrives to our present time. Its present owner is a girl named Zainab, who works as a doctor, and who has inherited the amulet from her mother, who in turn has inherited from her mother (that is, Zainab’s grandmother).

The amulet is said to protect whoever wears it from harm. The writer gives several examples of its protection throughout the first chapters and then in the middle of the novella.

When the amulet arrives to our present time, a struggle begins as to who can possess it, use it, and unleash its power. People also begin to hope that discovering the secrets this amulet holds would earn them millions and billions of pounds or a Nobel Prize.

The Amulet is a fairly interesting novella, with a different ending when compared to other sci-fi novels. Its opening chapters are short and very enjoyable. Afterwards, the pace slows down as we reach our present time and many parties begin to seek out the amulet and understand how it works and what other secrets it holds.

The amulet protects the person wearing it through a monstrous beast – described towards the end – that is seen by everyone except the person wearing the amulet. We later learn that the amulet protects its wearer only because it aims to protect itself.

Whilst reading the novella, I noticed how – at first at least – the amulet tended to fall into the hands of rulers and important people, and this reminded me of The One Ring from J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

I have given this novella a three-star rating on www.goodreads.comfor several reasons. First, I was waiting to be ‘wowed’. Second, there were so many irritating bits with the language and the style of the writer that just turned me off. I ended up crossing out the bits I found unnecessary throughout the novella. I cannot go into detail here for it is an Arabic novella and many of the bits relate to Arabic structure, grammar and writing. As far as I know, the novella has not yet been translated into English. I sincerely hope, though, that the downsides in the Arabic would be omitted or at least lessened in the English translation.

Amongst the things that bothered me was the writer’s use excessive use of commas. Arabic, unlike English, does not use commas often; it prefers the conjunction letter ‘wa’ meaning ‘and’. The writer uses a comma almost every other word or few words, which is both odd and annoying. Moreover, he uses some words or structures that are unfamiliar or that pertain to the spoken Arabic rather than the High Arabic used in this novella. Another thing that bothered me was that the writer often repeats the same image for the same situation in successive pages, which shows an obvious lack in creativity. An image that the reader would find intriguing would lose its glamour on the next page when it is repeated as copy/paste for the same situation.

Last but not least, the writer uses the verb “mumble” extensively as if there were no other verbs in the Arabic language. And I do not think a character can ‘mumble’ for four successive lines!

Nabil Farouk’s The Amulet is an interesting sci-fi that is worth the read. It will not wow you but you will have bits of fun. It is interesting to discover where this amulet came from and why it was made in the first place, which makes the ending intriguing.

For my detailed Arabic review of Al-Tameema (The Amulet), please click on the link below: