Book Review - On a Human’s Throw Away … The Road to Nowhere

Ossama Lotfy Fateem , Thursday 17 Sep 2020

Desert literature is an apt description of Bosahab Ahl Aala’s novel: barren, arduous and of little interest

Ala Marma Bashar (On a Human’s Throw Away) by Bosahab Ahl Aala, (Ibiidi Book Data Publishing Services), 2019.
Between the odd title, fragile story and shallow structure, Moroccan novelist Bosahab Ahl Aala managed to write a pointless novel that adds very little to the reader.
The title reminds of the expression “a stone’s throw away,” but he made it “a human’s throw away”, an attempt for a sophisticated title that was not successful.
Trying to explain the title is key to understating the novel’s plot, if we can call it that. A one sided love story between Ahmed Baba, a member of a lower class than the girl he loves, and Mariam, a girl that belongs to a “whities” tribe. He knows where she lives yet he has difficulty communicating with her. Contrary to real love stories, this one is totally imaginary.
The young man has seen his girl a few times when she was young, but never talked to her. He fell in love with a girl that does not know he exists in the first place.
The writer keeps dragging the reader in Ahmed Baba's pursuit and mirage-like love story. He finally is able to get her number, call her, text her, and eventually she turns him down, asking him not to contact her again.
Then it is discovered that it was her older sister that was communicating with him. A dull story that makes the reader feel the weakness and desperation of the main character, the futility of his attempts to get in contact with the girl — if we consider that scarce texting and rare phone calls are serious attempts at contact by a man in love. Said differently, no lover would want to be in that man's shoes; someone who does not fight hard enough to at least get to know the girl he loves, falling for the oldest trick in the book of flirting.
So Ahmed Baba is not only a spineless lover, but also a stupid one who falls for juvenile tricks played by young girls.
The writer tried to insert some politics into the novel. The novel takes place in the area covering Southern Morocco and Northern Mauritania in West Africa — an area that has been asking for independence for a few decades and mounted a military rebellion against Morocco. The writer recounts hat one of the characters, “Al Hussein”, Ahmed Baba’s friend, was imprisoned and tortured by authorities a few years earlier.
The problem with not going all out on political issues is that it makes the reader lose sympathy with the characters, fail to understand their fight or the reasons for the oppression they are facing. That is exactly what the writer did. We end up not understanding the cause or the root of the problem.
This is due to one of two reasons: either fear to come all out against brute authority, or a lack of talent to insert the political into a love story.
In this novel’s case, lack of talent explains it best. The writer was not able to build well-structured characters, interesting love relations, or friendship among the men. They all seemed superficial, common goals do not exist, family relations are feeble, the father does not really care about his son’s life, a son that spent a few years away from home studying, returning to his home town in transition, waiting to start a new job and career. This transition period is the “when” in which the novel takes place.
The flashbacks explaining the history of the area and the characters are shallow and the information contained insufficient to even move the reader’s curiosity to research and understand the reasons behind the conflict in Southern Morocco. Ahmed Baba, due to his education, came back with rebellious ideas but did not act on them or try to better his society with them. He remained a coward in politics, as he was in love. Most of the characters leave the reader indifferent and unsympathetic, if able to finish the novel at all.
Another issue that mentioned in the novel is discrimination between two classes in “Al-Samara” city. The workers, or “Elmaalemin”, cannot get married to the “Elbaydanyeen”, or upper class families. The latter need the workers and the services they provide, but they look down on them, and even friendship between men on both sides are frowned upon and discouraged from families. In other words, bigotry is built in within that desert society.
In an attempt to see the positive in a mediocre effort of a novel, the writer did inject the novel with some desert songs. For those who know desert music, the songs will retrieve old memories and maybe even drive readers to re-listen to these songs. For those readers interested in music, the song’s words might raise their curiosity to listen to a new type of music.
The novel’s ending is left open for the main character to have another adventure in another city, or maybe for the writer to redeem himself. “On a Human’s Throw Away” has been classified by some critics as desert literature, a new branch they are trying to invent. If such a thing exists, then it is really descriptive of the novel: a barren type of literature that requires a lot of effort and adds very little to the reader.  
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