21 June, 2021

Despair In Arabia Deserta

Despite the great set-up, the book is unbalanced by the maudlin and the repetitive

Despair In Arabia Deserta

In his award-winning novel Goat Days, Malayalam literature’s young star Benyamin tells the story of a young man who, like lakhs of other Malayalis in the 1990s, goes to the Gulf. Najib is barely making a living as a sand-diver in his village when he scrapes together a visa for Saudi Arabia. At Riyadh airport, the trusting man is scooped up by an outback Saudi farmer. Thus begin Najib’s heartbreaking years as a slave at a goat farm in the desert, held by brutal masters.

Najib is an astonishing protagonist, staying convincingly humane and grateful to God even after he gets more than Job’s share. When he sees a rare visitor, a Pakistani driver, he says: “Since I had been denied normal human smells I felt that even his sweat had a scent. Out of the sheer happiness of seeing a man, I even touched him once.” There follow his attempts to get the visitor to save him, and then his startlingly compassionate explanation for why the driver couldn’t.

Despite this compelling setup, the book is unbalanced throughout by the maudlin and...

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