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The Bamboo Stalk Hardcover – September 22, 2015
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"Absorbing." ―The New Yorker
"I was captivated from the first chapter. We need such literature. Alsanousi is an important emerging literary voice." ―Susan Abulhawa, author of MORNINGS IN JENIN
“Alsanousi is a voice of conscience.” ―The Independent
“A force to be reckoned with.” ―The Arab Times
“Ambitious, cultivated and brave.” ―Financial Times
About the Author
Saud Alsanousi is a Kuwaiti novelist and journalist, whose work has appeared in Al-Watan newspaper and Al-Arabi. He writes for Al-Qabas newspaper and lives in Kuwait City.
Jonathan Wright has translated several novels, two of which won the 2013 Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation and the 2014 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.
Top customer reviews
This was a compelling story of the son who grapples with having a Muslim name with a Filipino face. He often finds that he is accepted in neither his father's or mother's homeland as he grows from child to young adult.
Lois W. Stern
Creator of Tales2Inspire (an Authors Helping Authors project)
Josephine, originally from the Philippines, is working in Kuwait for the al-Tarouf family. The father is long dead, the matriarch, stuck in traditional values, lives with her four children, son Rashid and 3 daughters. Rashid is clearly struggling with the rigid strictures of home and culture and takes the Filipana maid as his wife, unacceptable to family and society. When they go on to have a child, José (Isa), whose story this is, the pressure becomes too much and mother and child are summarily despatched back to The Philippines.
José spends what seems to be his entire childhood just waiting for his Father to summon him back to Kuwait. He has a limbo existence, uprooted and deposited, trying to straddle the duality of culture. Every time he has the merest chance of an encounter with Kuwaitis, he takes it. On Boracay – an island I visited 30 years ago, when the landing strip at Caticlan had to be cleared of chickens – he takes a menial job, and spends a pivotal evening with a group of young men from Kuwait. But time and again, those around him struggle to accept him as a member of either nationality, his looks, learning and life experience are all inhibitors to integration and acceptance.
Alsanousi has a real ability to get into thinking of his chosen countries, the Philippines just comes alive, the almost insignificant interactions between José’s family members, their squabbles and traumas express more than the sum of the words. In Kuwait he captures the oppressive nature of society, the small country reflected in mores and manners, and how prejudice threads its way right through the layers of class, but how fragile it can all feel.
Much credit goes to the translator Jonathan Wright
One of the best books I have read in recent time, I can only say go out and buy it!
Jose's mother, Josephine, was a Philippina maid in the Al-Tarouf household in Kuwait, when she fell in love with Rashid, the wayward, only son. Rashid loved his baby son but his mother was horrified and turned him out of the house. Not surprisingly, Josephine lost her job and she and her son were deported back home.
There is no news from Rashid for many years and Josephine's searches come back cold. But although Jose is raised in the Philippines, he always carries his father's promise that he will eventually return to be a son of Kuwait.
The book description reveals that he does manage to return to Kuwait, as a young man, so I'm not giving away any spoilers there. What he finds though, is probably the book's strongest part - it shows how the people are not primarily Kuwaiti, nor from a particular sect or class, their strongest allegiance is to the family name and it is pride in this that rules all their actions. Nothing must bring shame on the family, and a half Philippino son is not something to be proud of.
I can see why The Bamboo Stalk was winner of the 2013 International Prize for Arab Fiction - chosen both for its literary qualities and for “its social and humanitarian content.”
It is an excellent insight into the issues behind the phenomenon of expat workers into wealthy GCC countries.