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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

Leg Over Leg
(Volume Two)

by
Aḥmad Fāris al-Shidyāq


general information | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Leg Over Leg (II)



Title: Leg Over Leg (II)
Author: Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq
Genre: Novel
Written: 1855 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 407 pages
Original in: Arabic
Availability: Leg Over Leg (II) - US
Leg Over Leg (II) - UK
Leg Over Leg (II) - Canada
Leg Over Leg (II) - India
  • Arabic title: الساق على الساق
  • Edited and Translated by Humphrey Davies
  • The Library of Arabic Literature edition is a bilingual one, the original Arabic text facing the English translation

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Our Assessment:

(-) : more of the same -- and you couldn't ask for anything more -- of this seminal work

See our review for fuller assessment.




The complete review's Review:

       The first volume of the four-volume translation of Leg Over Leg came as a revelation. Whatever familiarity with and preconceptions about modern Arabic literature the reader has, and brings to this nineteenth-century work, Leg Over Leg overturns them. This is a foundational text that most of us weren't aware of -- and even those who had heard about it but couldn't read the Arabic surely couldn't imagine just how rich and remarkable this strange fiction is.
       It is strange. A novel, of sorts, but largely autobiographical, and also deeply concerned with questions of (the Arabic) language -- one of the reasons it presumably hasn't been translated previously being the daunting challenges of conveying these (often very) specifics. (It seems safe to assume that in this bilingual edition, and with Humphrey Davies' remarkable translation, the Library of Arabic Literature volumes are about as close as one can get to the original, and to conveying the Arabic-language issues to English-speaking readers.)
       This installment -- book two -- continues to be formally inventive (and/or creative) too -- a few tricks borrowed from Tristram Shandy, perhaps, but still quite distinctive, from the off-center nineteenth chapter in this volume (the thirty-ninth overall, rather than fortieth, in this eighty-chapter work), 'The Circle of the Universe and the Center of this Book' to the ninth chapter in this volume, which promises (and largely delivers) 'Nothing' (which nevertheless offers more than the playful-cryptic fifteenth chapter, Davis suggesting its title implies: "a silent dialogue between the author and his pen"). There are again the long litanies of variations of words and expression, almost dictionary- (and/or thesaurus-)like in the many variations presented. One chapter is a maqāmah, a story of sorts thrown in for good measure; the next promises: 'An Explanation of the Obscure Words in the Preceding Maqāmah and Their Meanings' -- and while readers do find a vast number of terms being presented, explained, and compared here, it turns out, as Davies also notes in his notes: "In fact, none of the obscure words explained in this chapter occur in the preceding".
       This leaping off from one thing to the next (and pretending there is a connection, when in fact whatever connection there is (and there often is an underlying one) almost never is the one advertised) is typical of this narrative that certainly doesn't read like a traditional novel, and doesn't unfold a story in a very straightforward way. There is a story here, the continuing adventures of 'the Fāriyāq', still travelling, this volume mainly covering his time in Egypt. There's good amusement to be found in these episodes, but Leg Over Leg continues also to be (almost) all asides, with heavy doses of wordplay -- ranging from the weaving in of rhyme into the prose to the aforementioned word-lists.
       Once again, Davies admirably reinvents al-Shidyāq's verbal acrobatics -- a challenging mix of the unbridled and carefully constrained. Al-Shidyāq means to illuminate language and its proper usage with his story-telling and approach, and that is naturally very Arabic-specific here. Occasionally, the foreign reader gets little out of it: a list of Arabic words with similar or even identical meanings easily reaches its (reader's) limits. But Davies does as much as he can with all of this -- and usually there's enough to even the word-lists to not just hold the reader's attention but also to nicely entertain, as in the parenthetical:

     (Note: women who are brevo-turpicular, magno-pinguicular, vasto-oricular, ignobilar, exiguo-deformicular, flaccido-ventricular, obesar, rancidular, nigero-malo-incultular, and hyper-rustico-rapacular are more sensual and bolder than any of the above.)
       A middle volume in a larger work, this particular installment doesn't really stand on its own. It can be enjoyed without familiarity with the first book, but really it is just a continuation, and best enjoyed as that; without the concluding volumes (forthcoming, but not yet available) it also feels a bit like a loose end. Still, it's obviously an essential part of the larger whole, and continues al-Shidyāq's (and Humphrey Davies') impressive performances.

- M.A.Orthofer, 17 February 2014

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Links:

Leg Over Leg (II): Reviews: Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq: Other books by Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Aḥmad Fāris al-Shidyāq (أحمد فارس الشدياق) was born around 1805 and died in 1887.

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© 2014 the complete review

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