March 9, 2024

“Wandering Beings”: A Historical Manuscript of Characters Betrayed by Life

Wandering Beings review

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With a provocative title and an opening that evokes a striking paradox by poet Mahmoud Darwish: “All those who died escaped life by a miracle,” Saudi novelist Maqbul Al-Alawi launches his narrative “Wandering Beings” (240 pages), published by Dar Al-Saqi in 2022. This novel has reached the longlist for the literature category of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award in 2023. The story narrates the journey of a young man who finds himself immersed in an unexpected adventure after becoming a new employee at the town’s public library. Previously, he spent two years teaching in a school in Al-Qunfudah, a coastal Saudi town overlooking the Red Sea. As a library employee and a struggling writer eager to complete his novel, he, along with his colleague Moaz, embarks on a mission to document an old, deserted mill in the town as a historical landmark.

“The grain mill, or the Ottoman mill in Al-Qunfudah, still stands tall as a testament to significant historical epochs, built in the latter days of the Ottoman Empire. It later transformed into a storage site for various liquid fuels such as kerosene, gasoline, and oils, which supplied the mobile postal vehicles traveling between Mecca, Jeddah, Jazan, and Al-Qunfudah, and onward to these cities. Hence, it acquired another name, ‘Kazakhana.’ Afterward, it was neglected and became a desolate place, a source of eerie tales and ghost stories among the townspeople. Regarding the construction of this mill, the fortress was built in the year 1240 AH, corresponding to 1891 AD.”

A Tale within a Tale

During their visit, the narrator discovers a hidden treasure inside a damp wall—a wooden box adorned with brass. This treasure, a stack of yellowed papers affected by moisture and the passage of time, opens a gateway to another story: the saga of the castle or mill’s guardian, originating from a wealthy family in Mecca. The guardian vowed to rescue his sister “Najma,” abducted by an Italian admiral during an assault that also devastated the Turkish ships. Destiny led him to Anatolia in search of her, culminating in his murder at a hotel known as the palace. The dreadful news precipitated the death of his elderly father, grieving for his lost youth.

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