by Hamdi Abu Golayyel, translated by Robin Moger
The narrator of Hamdi Abu Golayyel’s A Dog with No Tail (Arabic 2008; English 2009) moves through life lazily but anxiously. He’s aimless, but still hoping for literary greatness. The novel itself hops from anecdote to anecdote, not progressing “logically,” or causally, but connected instead through the reappearance of characters and themes: family and Beduoin history, day labor, oppression, the narrator’s lack of success with women.
Several times, I thought I’d come to a centralizing moment, a place things would crystallize: the 1992 earthquake, the narrator’s desire to become an author, his time in prison), but none of them were it. The book’s English-language title—which I thought might be a hint from the translator, as it’s different from the Arabic title, The Laborer—comes from a seemingly random moment during the narrator’s not-so-illustrious college career:
Once I told a girl, “You look like a duck coming back from market.” It was all the rage at the time. But she replied, with a disdain I’m all too familiar with, “And you’re a dog with no tail.”
The book’s most vivid moments are usually sexual and a bit bizarre, such as the narrator’s strange—generally humorous and high-spirited—time in prison. Here, the narrator is speaking about his landlord:
Suddenly, his trousers fell down. … One moment they were round his buttocks and the next they were trailing between his feet. His bottom, perhaps from shame, was tightly clenched and looked like a mouth that had lost its teeth. I would never have guessed he had such a delightful bottom. Not skin on bone, but skin stretched across two hard muscles.
There are all sorts of things that this novel could push harder at: sex and sexual relations, the government, the nature of day labor, what it means to be a success. But it’s as though the narrator prefers to dally here and there. He’s a day laborer after all, moving things from one place to another: bricks, sand, prose.
Belated note: Ursula tells me that the (somewhat odd) title in English was chosen by the author.
Ursula Lindsay’s much more thorough review.
Biographical information about Abu Golayyel from AUC Press.