Book Reviews: BLACK BUCK, AGAINST THE LOVELESS WORLD

I picked up Against the Loveless World, a book about a Palestinian refugee who narrates the story from her confinement in an Israeli prison. The publisher comps the book to Her Body and Other Stories which I find a little odd (it doesn’t have much in common in subject or in tone), but in any case the writing is as enchanting as it is hard-hitting. Nahr is being interviewed by a white journalist she describes only as ‘the Western woman’ (CN for a gang-rape mention):

The Western woman put her hand up. She glanced down at her notepad, covered her written questions with both hands, inhaled deeply, and blinked one of those exaggeratedly long blinks—as if she were breathing through her eyelids—then said, “I read somewhere that you were gang-raped the night Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.”
I raised one eyebrow, which seemed to make her uneasy. In my peripheral view, Lena’s lips turned up almost imperceptibly.
The woman continued, “I can only imagine the horror of that night, and I’m sorry to bring it up.”
“What makes you think it’s okay to ask me these things?”

It’s good. It’s also a huge relief to read a book where no character exposits how elven aging works or how the conlang has five hundred words for ‘beige’—sometimes you get genre burnout, and the next explanation regarding the functions of a space empire or magic system becomes completely unbearable; you need to read something else to breathe. By no means is Against the Loveless World a cheerful read, but there’s a wryness to it: Nahr is not a cipher victim on which the reader may project their idea of what an Arab woman and refugee should be like. It’s odd to say, but this is such an easy book to read despite its subject matter, which I think separates it from outsider exploitation. Books about Arab women being miserable written by white people are an oppressively miserable affair to read, if they are at all readable.

Saying that this is a book about resilience seems trite, though it is about that. There are stretches that are very hard to read as Nahr endures successive rapes, and once those are past and she comes to live in Palestine, she has an unstable life disrupted constantly by raids, attacks, the arrests and brutalizing of her loved ones. Parts of the book are written with a surprisingly breezy tone, but there’s always an undercurrent of grimness and fear of what’s to come. It’s complex, demanding, and very angry.

The day that changed my life was like every other day before it, except that it changed my life. I suppose that makes it as important as a birthday, wedding, or bankruptcy, which is why I celebrate the twentieth of May every year like it’s my birthday. Why the hell not?

As with any other day, my alarm went off at 6:15 a.m. The buzzing interrupted an unremarkable dream that left me with morning wood. But instead of rubbing one out, I kissed my photo of my girlfriend, Soraya; straightened my leaning tower of books; said good morning to my posters of Scarface, The Godfather, and Denzel as Malcolm X, and stood in front of my mirror, taking stock of the person staring back at me.

I didn’t know it back then, but I was, and am, an attractive Black man. At six two, I’m taller than average, and my skin, comparable to the rich caramel of a Werther’s Original, thanks to my pops, is so smooth you wouldn’t believe it’s not butter. My teeth are status quo and powerful, also known as white and straight, and my hair is naturally wavy even though I usually keep it short with a tight fade. Goddamn! The kid looked good and he didn’t even know it. I took a deep breath, hopped in the shower, and began my morning routine.

Black Buck is such a ridiculously fun book even while it goes for the jugular of racism in start-up culture. It’s a bit Death of a Salesman, and it’s a bit… almost satirical self-help? One of the slickest books around while absolutely not flinching from the reality of white supremacy. Most of it is of course larger-than-life and exaggerated, the heartwarming beats can be a little corny (I love them though), and there is more voice than prose.

It’s a book that is hard to say anything bad about because it’s just so smooth, and it’s uplifting despite the way it ends (and despite the way Darren not getting everything he wants, and being subjected to a final injustice by force of white supremacy). It incorporates side-characters who are marginalized differently from the protagonist without ever making me feel this is done for the sake of ‘sounding’ progressive: the Black lesbian character is charming and vicious. I predict this is a book that’s going to be optioned in no time, it has that kind of buzz and sheen to it, and it’s something I’d genuinely love to see onscreen.


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