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Gold Dust by Ibrahim al-Koni
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Gold Dust (1990)

by Ibrahim al-Koni

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462391,651 (3.17)2
Rejected by his tribe and hunted by the kin of the man he killed, Ukhayyad and his thoroughbred camel flee across the desolate Tuareg deserts of the Sahara.

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Man and his camel in the desert.

I had a book group discussion on this book and have waited until after that to write this review. I had hoped that our Arabic members would have found more content in it and that perhaps I had missed something. But although they seemed to enjoy it more than I did, the discussion did not produce anything new. It is basically a book about a young man, Ukhayyad, who is given a rather special piebald Mahri camel, exquisitely rare, and his relationship with it.

Ukhayyad chose to refuse the bride that his father wanted for him, to unite two tribes, and married for love. As a result he was ostracised from the community and lived in the desert with his camel and his wife. Famine forced him to choose between his camel and his family and a large part of the book concerns that dilemna.
Ukhayyad struck me as supremely arrogant man and bragged endlessly about his wondrous camel.
When the camel contracts mange, Ukhayyad tries every remedy he knows to cure his beloved friend and finally has to take the advice of a nomad, to go into a certain part of the Libyan desert and feed the camel on silphium, a herb that is now extinct, but causes halucinations if taken in large amounts. The results of this treatment are another significant part of the narrative.
Finally Ukhayyad's actions catch up with him in a rather gruesome ending.

The author did give a lucid description of life in the desert and I had no reason to feel that Elliott Colla's translation was anything but accurate. The bond between Ukhayyad and his camel was well described, leaving no doubt as to the camel's imnportance. However, the main character was supremely unlikeable and behaved inexcusably, which made it hard to feel more than a moment's compassion for his ultimate fate.

This book reminded me of Paulo Coelho's Alchemist in that it felt like a fable and a moralistic story.
Not a book that I would recommend although I am glad that I have read it. ( )
  DubaiReader | Aug 10, 2012 |
Reading this book arose out of a chance encounter with a blog that said, "Ibrahim al-Koni is one of the Arab world's most prolific authors, yet he is rarely translated into English." That started to intrigue me and the process was completed when I found out that he is Tuareg and writes in a language (Arabic) that he learned as a teenager.

In some way, the language of this book is its most distinctive feature. While some of his original tone may be lost in translation, Colla has managed to convey a fable-like quality that is deceptively simple yet full of allusion. If we look at the story line, this is entirely consistent.

Ukhayyad is a Tuareg whose camel, a spectacular Mahri thoroughbred, is his closest friend, almost an extension of his personality. However, this isn't a boy-with-pet tale. The Mahri is full partner in the book, possessing a personality equivalent to, though subtly different from, that of a human. This movement away from an animal as a flat sidekick to an animal as a sentient character also seems to partake of a fable. The two wander through a story replete with themes of spirituality and mysticism that contrasts man's connection with nature against modern society. Ukhayyad rejects his father, his tribe, even his marriage and child as constraints upon his bond with the Mahri and the desert.

What makes this book challenging for me is that it's hard to make a choice between alternatives. The society that Ukhayyad rejects is portrayed as shallow and manipulative, using its sophistication as a weapon. Yet, Ukhayyad is not an attractive alternative. He comes across as immature and unlikeable. For every bad decision he makes, often against outside advice, his misfortune is blamed on others. Repeatedly we hear:

...now he understood, and his resentment found its mark: Dudu was to blame for what had happened. The famine was to blame...Ayur, his child, the Italians, the desert—they were all to blame...

In the end, I walked away feeling that the Mahri, alone, seems to represent an inner morality and a steadfastness of character. ( )
3 vote TadAD | Jul 15, 2010 |
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