October 5, 2012 by markstani
Sulaiman Addonia’s The Consequences Of Love (pub. Vintage, 2008) prevails as a damning an indictment of the insane inhumanity of Saudi Wahhabism: a much-needed and compelling insight into one of the most impenetrable and excrable societies on the planet.
Addonia grew up in Eritrea, from where he fled in 1976, and travelled via Sudan to Jeddah, where he studied through his teenage years. This novel is inspired by his experiences, and as such provides a valuable inside guide to the casual oppression of the Saudi regime, and the deep souls that exist in the minds of young men and beneath the burkas of the women with whom they are forbidden to communicate, yet clasp the kind of hope no amount of punishment can capture.
Feared religious police cruise Al-Nuzla street in tinted pick-ups, keen to contrive any breach of doctrine. Under the unrelenting sun, the street is bleached of humanity and emotion. This is a paranoid world in which a boy is arrested for wearing American sunglasses, which it is claimed have special powers to see under girls’ abayas; where low-level foreign workers are effectively held hostage by their kafeels, or sponsors, who dictate the terms of their residency permits: terms which routinely and relatively openly include the requirement to help satiate forbidden desires.
It is a world in which imams spout hate and demand the stoning to death of women who commit adultery, yet whose laws are so arbitrary and hypocritical that even the religious police themselves hide dirty secrets, and which are applied ‘only to the poor and to foreigners, not to the rich or the royal family.’
Like Addonia, Naser, the novel’s twenty-year-old main character, has emigrated from his war-torn homeland in search of work. His aimless days washing cars and searching out secret places to sniff glue and drink perfume are abruptly altered when a fully-veiled woman scuttles past and throws a love letter in his lap. As the letters continue, he learns to recognise his admirer by the pink shoes she wears beneath her burka – themselves a significant expression of rebellion in such a black and white society – and the pair gradually contrive ingenious ways to allow their nascent affair to develop.
Addonia’s prose is immediate and straight-forward, unencumbered by much back-story or unnecessary introspection, and it is its simplicity that makes it so compelling. He is adept at balancing the beauty of the burgeoning affair with reminders of the extraordinary risks they are taking in order to pursue it. As those risks increase, the apparent futility of their relationship impels the pair to consider the ultimate possibility of escape.
‘The Consequences Of Love’ retains at its core a rich, moving love story, not much different to so many other tales of forbidden trysts. But Addonia succeeds in displaying the full glory of their relationship without diluting his central indictment of a regime whose twisted values have bled it dry of anything approaching humanity.
Forced to inveigle himself in a mosque’s inner-sanctum as one means of continuing to shuttle messages to his loved one, Naser observes:
By now the imam was weeping with religious fervour. Some of the men listening began to cry as well.
I suddenly remembered his hate sermons against Jews, Shia and Sufi Muslims, Hindus and Christians. I recalled his hundreds of speeches that he repeatedly gave to drum into our heads that women are weak human beings and inferior to men.
I had a strong headache coming on. I felt like my head was about to explode. I didn’t want to be there any more. I could no longer sit and close my eyes and pretend that I wasn’t hearing what he was saying. I could no longer block out his voice obliterating my ears, poisoning my heart. I didn’t want to hate anybody. I didn’t want the imam to make me fear Allah more than loving Him. I remembered what our Eritrean imam in the refugee camp used to say: ‘Allah is compassionate and merciful. Always remember that Allah is love.’ And I no longer wanted to betray my strong mother – the most beautiful person in the world who sacrificed her life for her children – by being in the same place as this man, a man who spread hate and lies against her just because she was a woman.
I got up and left.
‘The Consequences Of Love’ is a thought-provoking and topical novel, highly recommended to anyone interested in peeping under the veil of Saudi culture. I’m surprised it doesn’t come with a list of literary prizes on its sleeve. You can read more about the book from the author himself here. And I must thank Ann Morgan at ‘Reading The World’, whose review compelled me to seek this excellent book out in the first place.