On November 5th we gathered to discuss the short novel, The Bleeding of the Stone (Nazif al Hajar) by Ibrahim al-Koni (translated by May Jayyusi and Christopher Tingley). Al-Koni, one of Libya’s leading novelists, is a master of magical realism (readers of Garcia Marquez and Allende will definitely want to know about al-Koni), and the group was intrigued by his mix of allegorical illusion, anthropomorphism, and intense studies on human nature.
The Bleeding of the Stone is an evocative look at the desert, the life of the Bedouin, religious and ecological issues, and the power of the human spirit to resist. Other books by al-Koni include the famous Anubis. The book weaves folk lore with references to religious metaphors – quoting from the Taurat and Injil (Old and New Testaments) and the Qur’an – to create a profound exploration about transformation and redemption.
This deceptively simple tale, which was very specifically rooted in one location and time, covered such universal topics as man’s insurmountable greed, hope in the face of development (or not), and death. With an at times heavily applied and at times subtle turn, Al-Koni explored the intersection of religions, the overlapping of Christian, Islamic, and pre-Islamic animal-based mythology. In many ways Bleeding of the Stone retells the story of Cain and Abel, with an environmentalist eye towards man’s inability to develop in a sustainable way.
While readers were divided about Bleeding of the Stone’s ultimate message (is there hope or are we doomed through our greed), this is a story of redemption – the possibility of man’s reincarnation into animal, the power of a blood sacrifice and destruction to bring life, so that rivers might again flow in the desert.
Follow up article: Desert passions: Ferial J Ghazoul journeys in the Tuareg world of novelist Ibrahim al-Koni: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2005/773/cu5.htm – Al Ahram Weekly 15 – 21 December 2005 – Issue No. 773