cover image The Book Censor’s Library

The Book Censor’s Library

Bothayna Al-Essa, trans. from the Arabic by Ranya Abdelrahman and Sawad Hussain. Restless Books, $18 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-63206-334-2

Kuwaiti author Al-Essa (Lost in Mecca) riffs on Kafka with this canny story of a book censor who transforms into a reader. In a dystopian future where the government can read people’s thoughts and bans literature that depicts deviant behavior, the unnamed protagonist worries his young daughter’s active imagination will get her hauled off to a rehabilitation center. Soon after starting his new job at the Censorship Authority, however, he falls in love with reading and joins the Cancers, a subversive group that tries to save books. In a scene that mirrors the opening of Kafka’s “Metamorphosis,” he wakes to find his bedroom filled with hundreds of books, so many that his wife threatens to leave him if he doesn’t get rid of them. Things escalate when a colleague is caught reading at work, the censor is suddenly relocated to a suburban bookstore, and his daughter is ordered to undergo “complete reprogramming of the brain.” Throughout, Al-Essa lays out the supposed dangers of reading in coolly ironic terms (“He knew about the maladies caused by books.... He knew if he peeked inside his own head he’d find worry, depression, fury at the world”). This allegory brims with intelligence. (Apr.)