The Launch of ‘Otared’ and the Consumption of Human Flesh

With the pre-publication launch of an excerpt of Mohamad Rabie’s third novel, Otared — both in the original Arabic and in English translation by Robin Moger — the Egyptian journal Mada Masr is establishing itself as a place for fresh new creative work:

عطارد copy000Mada hosts these fraternal-twin excerpts of Otared before the book is published, in the coming weeks, by Dar Al Tanweer.

The novel is Rabie’s third, and he has won acclaim for the first two: Amber Planet (2010) and The Year of the Dragon (2012).  Rabie was also selected to be part of the 2012 International Prize for Arabic Fiction nadwa.

But in this novel, writes translator Robin Moger, Rabie hits his fearless stride.

The novel is named for its protagonist, Captain Ahmed Otared, but it’s also is the planet Mercury. It’s a “future history,” like Nael Eltoukhy’s celebrated Women of Karantina, that follows the fortunes of a Cairo police officer. Or at least he begins as a Cairo police officer when we meet him at the scene of a horrific crime: a father killing and eating wife and children and feeding their flesh to the chidlren’s grandfather.

Moger calls it a “quite extraordinary, weird, epic book. Deeply upsetting (and I mean emotionally affecting, not shocking) in parts (I found some of it hard to read) shocking in parts, but always haunted and terrifying.”

It opens at a horrible crime scene. From the English translation:

A beginning

This line of blood puts me in mind of many things.

It’s traced on the wall, not quite vertically but leaning at a slight angle and at its apex bending sharply back to the ground. Small droplets hang down, running from the edge of the bend. It reminds me of an ostrich’s tail feather, a column of water rising from a fountain, the glowing tracks of fireworks launched across the sky.

The butcher was a true professional. With his massive cleaver he struck the calf’s forelegs a single blow to bring the animal down then passed the same blade over its neck, opening the rosy throat and an artery to send the blood jetting out in a clean line just like the line of water from a fountain — pulled down by gravity, held horizontal by the heart’s pump — only to meet the wall a few centimeters away and describe itself: the classic profile of airborne liquid, a profile on the verge of being lost forever and then preserved, a stroke upon the wall. Keep reading at Mada Masr.

It’s great to see Mada throwing its hat into the creative-writing ring, and it will be great to see this book getting out to readers in Arabic and in English translation.