cover image The Ardent Swarm

The Ardent Swarm

Yamen Manai, trans. from the French by Lara Vergnaud. Amazon Crossing, $24.95 (204p) ISBN 978-1-5420-2047-3

Manai’s vibrant English-language debut turns on rising political instability and religious populism in Sidi Bou, a fictional country that closely resembles Tunisia after the Arab Spring. In the village of Nawa, ascetic beekeeper Sidi wakes to find colonies of his beloved “girls” destroyed by hornets. Meanwhile, the nation’s first “truly” democratic elections are imminent and fundamentalist benefactors hailing from the Party of God have descended upon Nawa to ply the villagers with food and clothes in a bid to win their votes. As increasingly radical fundamentalist Islam infiltrates the once peaceful village, Sidi discovers the Party of God members were behind the death of his bees. Determined to learn how to protect his bees, Sidi leaves them in the care of sympathetic neighbors to visit the capital, where he can find books to help him battle the hornets. Though the parallels are occasionally heavy-handed, such as a bee-ravaging parasite as metaphor for colonial invasion, lyrical prose and layered insights transform what might have been a predictable fable into a vivid meditation on societal discord and harmony. This elegant allegory of globalization’s insidious nature finds rich drama in the tense, turbulent reckoning with questions of modernity versus tradition. Agent: Pierre Astier, Astier-Pécher Film & Literary. (Jan.)