by 'Abd al-Rahman Munif
The late Saudi novelist Munif (1933 – 2004) sets this timeless tale within an Arabic desert village struck by drought and doomed by the thoughtlessness of its inhabitants. Told in the omniscient voice of a storyteller familiar with this ancient land and its people, the tale involves a hunter from the village of al-Tiba, ‘Assaf, who acts as the Cassandra of the village, warning of the coming drought and urging the people to learn sustainable hunting methods. The inhabitants laugh at ‘Assaf, but come to recognize the efficacy of his hunting prowess when the drought seizes the village in earnest. When a group of people come from the city, ‘Assaf leads them on a hunting excursion, but the trip is scuttled by a terrible sandstorm. The group barely survives, but ‘Assaf, having taken off alone, is found dead, plunging the village in a period of grief and intense self-examination. A series of folktales follow, encapsulating the relationship between man and nature, and juxtaposing the inhabitants’ anxiety over their ancestors’ increasingly unsustainable land against the collective pipe dream of modernization, represented by plans for a dam. Munif’s work possesses the momentousness of myth.