The Grub Hunter (English Translation)

Publishing House: Pearson Education

Publication Year: 2012

Genre: Novel

Number of Pages: 144

“The Grub Hunter,” a novel by Amir Tag Elsir, was a contender for the prestigious International Prize for Arab Fiction in 2011. This narrative delves into the life of a former secret service agent, who, after a career-ending injury, is compelled to retire. In search of a new purpose, he is struck by the inspiration to write a novel about his experiences in espionage. His frequent visits to a cafe popular among writers soon draw the attention of the police. And reigniting the scrutiny he thought he had left behind.

The story unfolds around Farfar, the protagonist, who is forced into retirement after a debilitating injury. Facing a void in his life without family. Farfar grapples with loneliness until he decides to embark on an unexpected venture: writing a novel. Despite his history of incarcerating writers, he is drawn to the idea of joining their ranks. His visits to a writers’ coffeehouse raise suspicions among his former colleagues, highlighting the perilous nature of literature in a society under tight police control.

“The Grub Hunter” is celebrated for its cleverness and originality, offering a rich tapestry of satire and emotion. The Guardian praised the novel for its humorous yet poignant portrayal of life under an oppressive regime.

Amir Tag Elsir, also a practicing physician, didn’t initially intend to create a metafictional work. The novel was born from a vivid memory of an incident during his tenure in the surgery department of Sudan hospital. This memory transformed into the character of Abdallah Harfash. Also known as Farfar, who becomes the central figure in the novel. Following a friendly fire incident that results in the loss of his leg and subsequent forced retirement.

Farfar, an unlikely protagonist for a literary story, had not read a single novel prior to his accident. His interaction with books was limited to confiscating those deemed subversive. However, his experience in surveillance and report writing fuels his decision to pursue novel writing.

Spanning a brief 133 pages, the novel tracks Farfar’s obsession with his writing project. It delves into the nature of writing. Unlike typical metafictions, it focuses on ordinary Sudanese citizens struggling under difficult circumstances.

The novel vividly portrays a variety of characters, like the cheese-eating tailor, whose attitudes towards Farfar shift following his retirement. These characters are juxtaposed with others who ponder the challenges of creative writing under a police state. Farfar becomes attached to novelist A.S., his antithesis, who has been the subject of surveillance and imprisonment.

Various characters oscillate between realistic and symbolic roles, such as Farfar’s aunt “Th” and her husband Mudallik, an aspiring actor who goes to extreme lengths to gain attention. These symbol-laden moments propel the narrative without impeding its brisk pace.

The novel poses questions about the conditions necessary for creative thought and the process of producing a novel. However, it swiftly moves through these themes without dwelling on them. Elsir even integrates chapters of a fictional novel, “Eva Died in My Bed,” into the narrative without losing momentum.

The translation by William Hutchins, though somewhat straightforward, does not detract from the novel’s appeal. The charm of “The Grub Hunter” lies in its array of minor but richly detailed characters, each searching for something. The novel’s conclusion presents a twist, leaving readers to ponder the fate of Farfar as a novelist and the choices he must make.

Read More About Amir Tag Elsir

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