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3.0 out of 5 stars Stories Without a Story, April 18, 2010
By 
Jamie Elliott (Madison, WI USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: A Dog With No Tail: A Modern Arabic Novel (Hardcover)
A Dog With No Tail is novel with no central story; in fact it scarcely qualifies as a novel at all. It is a collection of non-consecutive vignettes featuring an Egyptian construction worker who aspires to authorhood. The brief stories appear to be held together only by the presence of the protagonist and narrator Hamdi, and perhaps by a general sense of desire-ridden inertia. This would be a more engaging organizational scheme were Hamdi a more interesting or sympathetic character. Hamdi is of a common enough type; he is a seemingly brittle combination of arrogance and a desperate need to impress, often lazy but full of the certainty that he is destined for a better life than that he leads. As a descendent of Bedouins adapting to modern Egyptian life he has his points of interest. Unfortunately, he also has a number of features that do not make him particularly endearing: he insults women for the audacity of being attractive and he reflects briefly on the most holy thoughts of Sheikh Osama Bin Laden, to name a few that may have particularly resonance with an English speaking audience.

Many things happen in the stories. Some focus on Hamdi's Bedouin ancestors, some on the sexual exploits of his day laboring brethren, the rest on events in the life of Hamdi. Though often eventful, the stories are surprisingly lacking in emotional power. Hamdi gets swept up in a violent student protest, but admits that even he doesn't understand his own motivation. He is interrogated in military prison, he lusts after women, he joins the peaceful religious Tablighi Jamaat, all with a certain vague detachment.

Novels about authors writing necessarily teeter on the edge of narcissism, and Hamdi mentions his special status as writer often enough to frustrate. He goes out of his way to impress others with his erudition and literary aspirations, though with a knowing wince at his own weakness. This self-awareness is really his saving grace. Of course there are many men who travel from country to city, who suffer from mismatched egos and work ethics, and who hope for something more. Not all of them realize their own contradictions. Good authors need insight, and throughout A Dog With No Tail there is hope that Hamdi is at least on his way to achieving his literary dreams.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Compelling themes, confusing delivery, April 18, 2010
This review is from: A Dog With No Tail: A Modern Arabic Novel (Hardcover)
This novel is difficult to review because I have very mixed feelings about it. It has something important to say, and it delivers on that, but the way in which the message was delivered felt very disjointed and disconnected.

The narrator is a laborer who goes out to a cafe each day for work. The descendant of a Bedouin, he embodies the drifting "lostness" of that disenfranchised group. He describes how the Bedouin were uprooted and "relocated" when Egypt wanted to become a more modern state. The novel captures the sense of aimless drift that seems to have resulted from this modernization. The narrator's character himself drifts-- both in his narration, between time periods and people, and in his life, between job sites and living situations.

It's a worthwhile read. Others who enjoy a postmodern style of writing may enjoy it more than I did-- I felt like I got something out of it, but it felt like a chore as I never felt engaged with any of the characters. There were too many of them to keep up with, and the narrator himself remained distant and unreliable.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Not an easy read, July 16, 2011
This review is from: A Dog With No Tail: A Modern Arabic Novel (Hardcover)
To me, the sub-title of Hamdi Abu Golayyel's A Dog with No Tail, `A Modern Arabic Novel', was a misnomer of sorts. In essence, the book was more a series of vignettes focused on the life of a young Bedouin Egyptian. Each story covers some part of the young man's life, and through them the reader discovers that he is a writer who has had some small success, which he makes sure to boast about, and that he is aspiring to greater literary achievements. In the meantime, he supports himself by working as a labourer, while carefully ensuring that he lets everyone know that this is not his true destiny.

I enjoyed the concept quite a lot and the stories were, for the most part, very interesting. However, I had one major difficulty with this book in that it was very disjointed. Several of the incidences in the narrator's life were told in parts, covered in more than one of the stories. However, these stories didn't usually follow each other, and in some cases were separated by ones which didn't seem to relate to what went before, or to what came immediately afterward. It made it more difficult to get a feel for any one particular incident.

While I appreciate that this may well have been what the author was trying to achieve, using the writing style to mimic character's feeling and motives, it didn't really work for me. Instead, it felt as though I was fighting with the style at some points, in order to be able to understand the overall intent.
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A Dog With No Tail: A Modern Arabic Novel
A Dog With No Tail: A Modern Arabic Novel by Hamdi Abu Golayyel (Hardcover - January 1, 2010)
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