February 8, 2024

“The Sleeper’s Face”: An Intriguing Beginning to an Endless Novel

The Sleeper's Face Review

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“The Sleeper’s Face,” a novel by Saudi poet and novelist Abdullah Thabit, begins with several warnings as an opening prelude. The first warning: “Inside every woman is a tree.” Another warning: “If you leave the tree you are accustomed to, be sure that returning is the most desolate part.” And a daily warning: “What a woodcutter does most when he loses his axe is count the trees.”

These warnings lead us to yearn for Mother Nature, embodied in the tree, which resides within every woman and whose departure leaves you feeling desolate until you return. Here, the narrator’s sense of alienation appears, along with his search for a shelter, symbolized as the “tree” mother.


Painful Events Behind Alienation from the World

The novel narrates the story of “Ghassan,” a Saudi in his forties, who has gone through painful experiences in life that significantly affected his psyche, making him appear disturbed in the eyes of others. His mother died giving birth to him, and his father took care of him. He became detached from the world after experiencing three difficult events, the first at the age of ten, when an argument with a classmate, who insulted his mother, escalated into a fight, breaking something inside Ghassan since that moment.

At twenty-one, he accidentally witnessed an execution. He saw a crowd in an alley, approached the gathering, and watched as the soldiers brought a black man, sat him down, and beheaded him with a sword.

Ghassan remained captive to this devastating scene for years, harboring detestable feelings towards death and the helplessness that followed him, feeling pain, blood, contraction, and an increased fear of people.

At thirty-six, after falling in love with a girl by chance, her brother spied on them, beat her, and forced her to file a report against Ghassan, claiming he seduced and blackmailed her to come to him, and if she did not comply, he would kill them both. This incident was the final estrangement between him and the world, from which he decided to permanently detach himself.

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