Alem, the first woman to win the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, blends surrealism and mystery in this challenging novel, which opens with the Lane of Many Heads taking on narrative duty (“I am that narrow alley in Mecca, off the highway where pilgrims make their ablutions and don their white robes”). No impartial observer, the lane expresses strong emotion, as when complaining about being saddled with an “overpopulated, head butt–evoking name.” The discovery of the nude corpse of a woman named Azza in the lane leads detective Nasser al-Qahtani to investigate. Nasser, who has survived a traumatic childhood, is still haunted by witnessing his father murder his sister, a crime covered up at the time. Alem (Fatma) is most successful at depicting the despair of the neighborhood, one whose residents “kneaded and fermented its excrement so that they could get drunk on methane,” but fans of traditional whodunits should be prepared for a meandering plot. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 01/25/2016 Release date: 03/01/2016 Genre: Fiction
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