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Sulaiman Addonia: The Consequences of Love
Naser is a young Eritrean boy. We later learn that he is the illegitimate son of an Eritrean woman and an Ethiopian man. With the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia heating up, his mother decides to send Naser and his younger brother, Ibrahim, away to safety. They first go to a camp but are then sent to Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia, under the care of their uncle. The uncle is a very pious man and highly critical of his sister’s (Naser’s mother) behaviour. He wants Naser and Ibrahim to become mutaween. By the time we met Naser in Jeddah, he is fifteen and definitely not into becoming a mutawwa. He and his friends sniff glue, they listen to Western music, do not go to the mosque, read banned books and many of them are gay. Naser is not gay but he is soon introduced to the hidden gay culture in Saudi Arabia. Naser, his brother and his uncle, as foreigners, have to have a Saudi sponsor. Their fate depends on him. It is up to him to have their residence permit renewed every year and he can decline to do so, in which case they will be deported. He has been doing this for a fee but the fee has gone up and their uncle can no longer afford it. However, the sponsor, an older man, has agreed to do it for free as a favour. The favour tunes out to be sex with Naser and Naser has no choice but to comply. This is the first instance but certainly not the last of the hypocrisy of the Saudi system, with the rich and powerful allowed to practise rampant homosexuality while sexual transgressions by the ordinary people, and foreigners in particular, are severely punished. Indeed, we meet the Saudi official executioner, whose job also include flogging and cutting the hands off sexual transgressors. His son goes to school with Naser.
On several occasions, people try to entice Naser into homosexuality. He first works in a café belonging to his friend Jasim, which is essentially a homosexual meeting place. Jasim only hires attractive (male) waiters and uses them to entice customers. Naser and the other waiters are obliged, on occasion, to have sex with some of these customers. However this novel’s main plot is about a heterosexual relationship. One of Naser’s complaints is that he has not spoken to a woman since he arrived in Saudi Arabia. Indeed, a man seen talking in public to a woman to whom he is not married or related, will feel the wrath of the religious police. Naser does learn that women sometimes will drop notes for men they are attracted to in the street to start a relationship. One day, this happens to Naser. He is on holiday. All his friends have left Jeddah as it is too hot, so he sits around with little to do. A woman in full burqa does drop such a note and tells him that she is attracted to him. This continues for some time – he cannot, of course, reply – till he pretends to find religious fervour and becomes the disciple of a local blind imam. He is able to blackmail the imam’s assistant, who has made a homosexual proposition to him, and thereby become the blind imam’s guide. This allows him to leave notes in the blind imam’s bag, as the imam regularly visits the house of the woman who has been leaving the notes.
The novel continues with this clandestine love affair which could, of course, have dire consequences for both parties, if they are caught. Nevertheless, Naser is so keen on having a relationship with a woman that he even gives up his job and lives on his savings to pursue her. Meanwhile, Addonia, who clearly is not likely to be welcomed back to Saudi Arabia, continues to mock and condemn the hypocrisy of the Saudis, with one law for the rich and another for the ordinary person (not, of course, unique to Saudi Arabia), with rampant homosexuality and drug abuse and a lot of religious hypocrisy. Addonia tells his story of forbidden love and its consequences well and gives us a fascinating insight into Saudi culture and life.
First published in 2009 by Random House