cover image Cousin K

Cousin K

Yasmina Khadra, trans. from the Arabic by Donald Nicholson-Smith and Alyson Waters, afterword by Robert Polito. Univ. of Nebraska, $15.95 trade paper (96p) ISBN 978-0-8032-3493-2

Like the alienated character of Camus’ The Stranger—which clearly influenced this first-person confessional by Mohammed Moulessehoul (The Sirens of Baghdad), writing under a pseudonym—the peculiar boy who inhabits the manor at a remote Algerian township remains a perfect cipher. But he is a particularly vindictive one. Our nameless protagonist is tormented by his beloved cousin from the city, though her absence makes him equally miserable. “Without her, I am nothing but a swelling bruise, a ripening calamity.” Eventually, he is transformed into “a pillar of self-torment” seemingly capable only of inflicting pain and suffering on others. Whether this peevish provincial scion is disturbed because he discovered his father’s brutalized corpse, because of the vehement rejection of his mother, or because he’s psychotic, the book does not say. The best passages involve the intermittent visits of the narrator’s cherished brother, as seen through the eyes of the rejected son: “My mother could not contain herself.... Her suffering was even greater now that he was here. Her eyes bespoke childbirth; her joined hands recalled the praying Virgin.” While the novella feels fractional, offering only piecemeal glimpses of the protagonists, it is atmospheric and the writing is tense and lyrical. (Apr. 1)