Book Review: The Idol (الصنم) by Mohamed Alaa El Din: A triumph of style over substance, Mohamed Alaa El Din's short novella The Idol (الصنم) is an acquired taste. The story is thin, the book is very short (under 60 pages), and the overall atmosphere dream-like. But the writing is lush, the descriptive passages drip with atmosphere, and the story, however thin, is strange and hypnotically told. The story revolves around the relationship between an oracle/mystic and his young son, who travel from one place to another, seemingly running from something. Along the way the father works as a fortune-teller and spellcaster, and, slowly, we discover that he is both feared by many and afraid of something that's haunting him and his son. Meanwhile, the son has terrifying visions that involve a mysterious man thwarting him and tides of blood washing over him. The boy feels that all his and his father's troubles are somehow linked to a family heirloom that they take with them wherever they go: an idol of a one-eyed man.
Yes. The story is indeed bizarre. But Alaa El Din sure knows how to cast a spell, as his style is fluid and unique, and his characters memorable. And the ambiguous, frightening ending also packs a punch. This is a stylistically daring novel, and one which haunts the reader days after he/she has finished it.
* Available from El-Ain Publishing.