One would assume that the little island of Bahrain must have tons of great contemporary literature. After all, the mythic land of Dilmun, featured in the Epic of Gilgamesh as well as the Garden of Eden are both assumed to have been located in present Bahrain. One would, however, be completely wrong. It turns out it is extremely difficult to find any contemporary author from Bahrain that has been translated in English.
I really, really didn’t want to read QuixotiQ by Ali Al Saeed, which explains why it took me four days to read 200 pages (and usually it takes me one day to read 200 pages). I was on the verge of giving up so many times and I only finished the book out of stubbornness – after all I need to read a book from every country however bad it might be. Ann Morgan had only two novels in her short list and I wanted to read the other one. However, after exhausting every possible source for an e-book, I succumbed to the realization that I would have to read QuixotiQ.
Now, QuixotiQ is bad on so many levels I really don’t know where to start. First of all, Ali Al Saeed decided to write in English. I am a firm believer that if you are about to write any literary piece, it must be in your mother tongue. However confident you might feel in your knowledge of a particular language, you could never get the nuances of it, and you could never really express yourself the way you would in your native language. A simple proof – my reviews in Bulgarian here are much better, in my opinion and according to other people, than my reviews in English. Why I continue to write in English, though, is a mystery waiting for its answer.
Translations are not the ideal answer either as it is always preferable to read any piece of literature in its original language. However, human beings (excluding some geniuses who know like 10 languages) are limited in their ability to learn new languages. Given the translator is a skilled one, I would prefer a translation to something written in English by a non-English speaker every time.
However, I must admit I understand Saeed’s decision to write in English – after all the track record of contemporary Bahraini books translated into English is far from impressive. Nevertheless, the result is a disaster. Saeed’s knowledge of the English language might be enough for any type of social interaction but it is not enough to write a book. For starters, he mixes various verb tenses in a single sentence, he puts commas wherever he pleases, and more often than not he misuses certain words. I imagine he didn’t have an editor, and even if he did, this editor must have been a good friend of his to spare the fact that this is really a piece of garbage.
I would have forgiven him that, of course, if he had any skill as a storyteller. I understand he has little chance of being translated into English and he wanted to reach as large an audience as possible. However, he is not a skilled writer. He basically tells us everything straight, leaving little for the mind or the imagination. The protagonist did this because of this. He felt sad. He felt happy. He was in love. He wasn’t in love. He was angry. These are not exact quotes, but they might as well be. Ali Al Saeed’s style is as simple as it gets – you don’t need any brain activity to understand what drives the characters’ actions – Saeed is there to tell you. And even if you didn’t understand it the first time (however impossible that seems to me), the author is there to repeat it a second, or a third time.
I would have forgiven him that as well, if the story was any good. After all, not all of us can be masters of the language, but we might have imagination worth being expressed. Saeed doesn’t even have that. I don’t really know what this novel is about, because frankly it is about nothing. We have a couple of depressed guys, whose life is worth almost nothing – and sadly they realize it. Set in the fictional town of Okay (and again, who really names a town Okay, even if it is fictional; if I ever write a book, my fictional town will be named “Sure”) QuixotiQ explores the lives of Guy, Patrick and Christina. Guy is deeply depressed, stuck in a job and in an existence he hates. He holds grudges with his father for not loving him enough as he was growing up and for taking away his dream of becoming a professional baseball player. Patrick is more or less in the same situation – only slightly worse. He lost his mother and sister to a tragic accident and later his father who committed suicide out of guilt. Stuck in a boring relationship, he finds himself quitting his job and landing another one as a delivery boy in the company his girlfriend works in. Soon both Patrick and the girlfriend become entangled into the drug world of Okay (seriously, how can a town be called Okay) and are looking for a way out. Christina also quits her job (surprise here) and is just about to be happy with a guy she has been dating on and off for quite a while, when her world also reduces to ashes.
Patrick and Guy have one thing in common – they see stuff no one else can. Why, it is never explained in the novel. How this affects their lives – it’s not explained either. However, miraculously Guy and Patrick realize that the other one is seeing weird things and unite (I wouldn’t need to mention that this also happens out of the blue). After this, the story unfolds in an absolutely unjustifiable way with characters often acting without any apparent cause and often questioning their own motivation. There seems to be no logic in either Guy, Patrick or Christina’s actions and as I kept reading, I became more and more annoyed. The ending is senseless as well – we get this terrible revelation about Guy’s life (which is not that terrible really) and we are left with no explanation as to why this book had to be written. Ever. The only positive thing I derive from this experience is the utter conviction that if Saeed can write and publish this piece of shit, then whatever (and if) I write something, I would be a bestselling author. Wait, I extracted another wisdom from this book – being stuck in a terrible job will ultimately depress you so quit now and start seeing and dreaming weird stuff. What a waste of time this novel has been.
Finally, what’s up with the title, dude. I realize this must be a cool way of writing quixotic but the connection with the eternal Don Quixote eludes me. This novel should never have been written, should never have been published, and I should never have had to endure the pain of reading it.