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Ibrahim Al-Koni: أنوبيس (Anubis)

This novel is concerned about Tuareg folklore and myth – al-Koni is a Tuareg and he wants to write about his people. In his introduction, he states that he collected the many variations of the Anubi legend, including consulting various people, reading ancient manuscripts and even looking at cave drawings. The result is a fairly complicated story but told as a fable about Anubi, the boy who loses his father and sets out in search for him.

The books starts with his birth, which he remembers and describes. He has a vague recollection of having seen his father but no more than that. When he is older, he wonders why his father is not there. His mother tells him the father must be seen at least once to demonstrate that he is a father, but he must also disappear to prove he’s a father and goes on to tell him migration is the father’s choice, since he wants to be as he ought to be. He is confused by what his mother tells him but is determined to find him and sets out to do so. The book tells of his somewhat strange adventures in the desert, looking for his father. These adventures include the possibility that he kills his father, though it may only be his father’s shadow. But he also meets a variety of jinns – good and bad – and priests who advise him, often speaking in strange aphorisms (a list is given at the end of the book). He has a run-in with a female jinn whom he both fears and lusts after.

Al-Koni includes other myths in his story, including, in particular the legend of Targa (the letters used to make up the name Tuareg), an oasis where Anubi’s wanderings through the desert will land him. He will be joined by others there and become both priest and leader of the community, though it will not be plain sailing for him in either role.

It is a strange book and not always easy to read and follow. The characters speak in aphorisms and it is not always clear what they mean. What is clear is that Anubi’s character is formed in the desert, through the jinns, spirits, priests and even animals he meets and it is the desert that makes a Tuareg man.

Publishing history

First published 2002 by al-Mu’assasah al-‘Arabiyah lil-Dirasat wa-al-Nashr, Beirut
First published in English in 2005 by American University in Cairo Press
Translated by William M Hutchins