Lit & Found: An Excerpt of ‘The Disappearance of Mr. Nobody’

Ahmed Taibaoui’s Naguib Mahfouz Medal-winning novel The Disappearance of Mr. Nobody was published this week by Hoopoe Fiction, in translation by Jonathan Wright.

The noir Algerian novel, winner of the 2021 Mahfouz Medal, follows a protagonist who is caring for an old man who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. The old man dies, and an officer begins investigating the circumstances of his demise only to find that the man cannot be identified—he is a Mr. Nobody.

One of the 2021 judges, the late Humphrey Davies, called the novel a book of “unpleasant truths.” He noted that Taibaoui “uses the prism of the police novel (a genre well suited, on the face of it, for the casting of light into dark corners) but the further the detective delves into this world of poverty, marginalization, and decomposing bodies, the less sure he becomes of what he knows. From the somber but intense style, vivid characters emerge.”

The excerpt appears at the Hoopoe Fiction website, and opens:

I have a knIfe In my kitchen. I’ve never been an aggressive per- son, but if this disgusting old man goes on jabbering away I’mseriously thinking of finding a new use for that knife. I’ll cut his tongue out, and some other organ if necessary. I’m out of cig- arettes, the weather’s so miserable it makes you aggressive and, on top of all that, he’s giving me good reason to finish him off.Removing someone from the land of the living might be a rea- sonable solution, even for someone like me who has only trivial reasons for doing so. This Uncle Mubarak, as everyone calls him, is an uncle to everyone, not an uncle to anyone in particu- lar. He’s public property, vulgar and delusional. He likes to hear people say things that suggest he’s respected, though he doesn’t deserve any respect. That’s what I learned in his café when I had the impression he deserved a certain respect in deference to his gray hair. It was my mistake from the beginning—when I opened the door and let him into this den of mine, and earlier when I let him break down the barrier I had set up between myself and others. Being alone is bad, but having to deal with other people is worse. I haven’t spoken to anyone for days. I’ve sold my phone. I don’t have anyone to call or anyone to call me. Throughout the past year, Mubarak is the only person I’ve spoken to for more than five minutes.

You can read the whole excerpt, and order the book, at the Hoopoe Fiction website.