cover image The Teeth of the Comb

The Teeth of the Comb

Osama Alomar, trans. from the Arabic by Osama Alomar and C.J. Collins. New Directions, $13.95 trade paper (96p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2607-3

There are no wasted words in Alomar’s (Fullblood Arabian) beautiful collection of very short fictions. Philosophical and subversive, these tiny parables deconstruct human failings with a keen insight. The title story, an anecdote about the uneven teeth of a comb, reveals a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of social stratification. “Love Letter” tells the story of a couple separated by class, culture, and distance both metaphorical and physical. The nameless narrator emigrates during an era of oppression, mirroring Alomar’s exile from Syria. The lovers continue a written correspondence, but, as revolution and civil war divide their homeland, chaos threatens to sever the pair forever. In “The Shining Idea,” a cynical father debates with his optimistic son about the inherent darkness of humanity. “The world is a blank page,” the boy explains. The collection delves into universal themes of aging—“Journey of Life”—and love and loss. These stories deliver the kind of stunning maxims that a cunning master might spout to an eagerly waiting acolyte. By working together with C.J. Collins on the translation, the author succeeds in highlighting the inherent poetics of his prose. This lyricism obfuscates some narratives, and there are instances in which Alomar seems to sacrifice clarity in favor of playfully testing the limits of style. However, gorgeous, paradoxical metaphors reveal more depth with further consideration, and the apparent contradictions often reflect incongruities prevalent in society: Alomar’s work swims in the aspects of the modern world that do not make sense upon closer inspection, like the correlations between poverty and capitalism. These brief narratives are not nihilistic; they convey a plea for progress and improvement. Alomar’s writing brims with hope, and this slim volume is full of compassion and depth. (Apr.)