THE SHORT STORIES OF ZAKARIA TAMER
whose world revolves around his immediate surroundings: his family; his house (with the girl genie who sleeps in his bedroom); the courtyard, with its five trees; and his best friend, the black stone wall. In successive sections, the boy relates a series of episodes from his early life with his family – descriptions related with an authenticity that well accords with Tamer’s status as a leading writer of children’s literature in Arabic. As in Tigers on the Tenth Day, however, there is an unexpected twist at the end, when the reader finds the boy thirty years later asking the bitter orange tree that stands in the courtyard how old it was – the same question he had asked it as a boy – to be told that: “men don’t usually talk to trees . . . children are the only ones who chat with trees and . . . they forget their prattle when they grow up”. Himself now married, and father to a young son, the narrator concludes his account by resolving to imitate his son, who is drawing a “small village in which no one lived except cats and birds and trees”, by drawing “a city without any living beings, and whose streets and houses are mountains of ash”.
Such enigmatic endings are a common feature of Tamer’s stories, which like much of the best literature, are both local and universal at the same time. The author’s apparently effortless prose in fact masks a rich mix of narrative techniques: he plays with time, transporting Genghis Khan to a café with a song coming from the jukebox, while animals, trees and even inanimate objects frequently converse and interact with humans on an almost equal footing. In terms of theme, many of the stories revolve around the themes of oppression, or repression, in one form or another – be it social, political or sexual – and in this respect, his stories often reflect the environment of his native Syria. Violence is common, as are the dreams and fantasies of the poor and the weak: in “Small Sun”, well known to many students of Arabic through its inclusion in Hafez and Cobham’s A Reader of Modern Arabic Stories, Abu Fahd’s dreams of a better life for his unborn child are brought to a violent end when a drunk stabs him in the stomach; while in “Hasan as a King”, one of the shortest and most straightforward of the stories, a poor man, Hasan, who dreams of being a king, leaves his wife and seven children and walks for several days in the hope of realising his goal; but when he reaches the city of his dreams, the people simply cut off his head. In “A Summary of what Happened to Mohammed alMahmoudi”, a lonely and harmless old man who has suddenly died
104 BANIPAL 53 – SUMMER 2015