Saudi novelist and story writer Ahmed al-Hokail released a new story collection entitled "Home," published by Riwayat Imprint affiliated with Sharjah-based Kalimat Group. The collection includes many stories that took place in the 1970s and 1980s, featuring many details from that period such as the shape of streets and the interests of people who lived back then.
The author created the picture of a whole era using car brands, urban expansion, and the emergence of new neighborhoods. He also shed light on the consequences of moving to a new house, like losing familial ties, neighbors, and childhood memories in the past decades, during which people never closed their doors or set boundaries with other families.
In a text titled "Ibn Battuta Leaves," the novelist tells the story of a little boy who remembers his neighbors leaving to a new house in 1986; the story's main character blend events from two different periods: the first when he was an 11-year-old boy, and the other after he became a husband and a father.
He recalls moments filled with nostalgia for a time where he was more innocent. With his visual memory, the man reconstructs the past of his neighbors on the last day in their old house, how their faces disappeared, and his ties with them were gone forever. Other stories revolve around the simple relations that dominated the society before the oil boom, and how moving from old neighborhoods to urban communities always represented a new shift for individuals and families.
From the perspective of an 11-year-old boy, half of the regret expressed in the stories comes from losing the simplicity and missing the happiness of visiting neighbors' houses like he used to do in his childhood. In other words, the "modern house" has become, according to al-Hokail's texts, the synonym of missing neighbors, and the end of a time where people sat together around one table. In his texts, the writer was keen to recall smells, and activate senses, while the visual part remains dominant.
In his collection, al-Hokail seeks to highlight what others don't see in the transformation of houses, and the change of their owners. The second story, also named "House," revolves around a living room, the events it hosted, furniture, marriages, friends gatherings in the absence of their wives, night adventures, ruined recipes, and everything that could happen to a person and become a major part of his life.
In some of its pages, the collection features texts with unfamiliar plots based on philosophic views. The third story, for instance, discusses death with a touch of fantasy and explores various deaths that humans might experience, according to reincarnation myths. But, in this text, deaths were real and not just mythological hypotheses.
The stories of Ahmed al-Hokail in this collection, like in the last text "From the Margin: Letter from after Death," and three others with similar ideas, feature a forest full of lives, in diversified narrative subjects with historic if not legendary roots. Here, the reader might find it hard to understand why there are texts that are not related to the main idea of the book. However, the used language gives the stories a sort of consistency and reflects remarkable patience in forging the scenes and aesthetic energy that manages to fill the reader's hunger.