cover image Black Foam

Black Foam

Haji Jabir, trans. from the Arabic by Sawad Hussain and Marcia Lynx Qualey. Amazon Crossing, $28.99 (242p) ISBN 978-1-5420-3402-9

Jabir’s picaresque English-language debut introduces enigmatic antihero Dawoud, a habitual liar on the scale of Scheherazade, who weaves deceptions for his survival. Dawoud treks on foot from his native Eritrea’s Blue Valley, where he had been kidnapped and tortured, to a refugee camp in Ethiopia. There, he commits arson, setting a fire and acting the hero by being the first on the scene, in order to gain an “in” with a human trafficker. He also tells a UN High Commission on Refugees examiner at a refugee camp in Eritrea an elaborate tale of tender romance with the shyly flirtatious Aisha, but it’s unclear whether Aisha is real or a fantasy; and he scams and bribes his way into a group of Ethiopian Jews, whom an Israeli religious group is repatriating to Israel. Finally, he meets Mariel, an Eritrean Palestinian man with whose organization he finally feels at home and safe, though it’s clear Dawoud is headed for an inevitable downfall. Though Dawoud’s endless drifting tends to undermine any narrative traction, Jabir adds depth by portraying him as a spiritual searcher, making his association with the Palestinians all the more tragic. There are some hard truths amid the thicket of swerves and misdirection. (Feb.)