cover image Mansour’s Eyes

Mansour’s Eyes

Ryad Girod, trans. from the French by Chris Clarke. Transit, $15.95 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-945492-36-5

Capitalism and religious fundamentalism collide in Girod’s shimmering account of one man’s heresy and imminent execution. In 2013, Syrian immigrants Mansour al-Jaziri, an architect, and his friend Hussein, an engineer, enjoy comfortable lives as members of the professional class in Saudi Arabia, with access to fast cars, booze, hashish, and friends in high places. As narrated by Hussein, their lives are abruptly changed when Mansour is struck with a headache, has a spiritual epiphany in the desert, and emerges mentally diminished. At a diplomatic affair in Riyadh, Mansour’s strange behavior intrigues the Australian socialite Nadine Nasr-Vaughan and her husband, an ex tennis star. Upon learning Mansour is jobless, the couple hires him as a live-in landscape architect. His subsequent affair with Nadine torments a jealous Hussein, and another employee reports his moral crime. Throughout, Girod neatly enmeshes the saga of Mansour’s great-great-grandfather, the religious and military leader Abdelkader, who struggled for Algerian independence and later attempted to make peace with the colonial French. Mansour’s epiphany mirrors his ancestor’s belief in enlightenment ideals of harmony and reconciliation—of East with West, art with science, man with God. Yet as Hussein observes, “even the purest of geometries breaks down, sometimes, into crude scribbles.” Girod’s incisive, sometimes terrifying tale illuminates colonial history and the fraught nature of Mansour’s ideals, gleaming as brightly in the believer’s eyes as on the blade above his head. (June)