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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Village Indian

Abbas Khider

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To purchase The Village Indian

Title: The Village Indian
Author: Abbas Khider
Genre: Novel
Written: 2010 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 161 pages
Original in: German
Availability: The Village Indian - US
The Village Indian - UK
The Village Indian - Canada
The Village Indian - India
Der falsche Inder - Deutschland
  • German title: Der falsche Inder
  • Translated by Donal McLaughlin

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Our Assessment:

B : nice small book of exiled roaming

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Der Standard . 22/11/2010 Mascha Dabić

  From the Reviews:
  • "(K)urzweilig, lakonisch und tieftraurig." - Mascha Dabić, Der Standard

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Village Indian uses a framing device, opening with a narrator describing getting on a train in Berlin, headed for Munich -- and finding a fat envelope on the seat beside him, with 'memories' written in Arabic script on it. The person whose seat -- and envelope -- it presumably is does not return to the compartment, and the narrator eventually opens it and begins reading the enclosed manuscript. The bulk of the novel is what he finds in the envelope -- the 'Memories' of one Rasul Hamid.
       Rasul is the 'village Indian' of the title, an Iraqi whose complexion and appearance are closer to that of an Indian than an Iraqi (and who on several occasions has to work hard to convince others he actually is Iraqi). (Regrettably, the English translation can't quite capture the German: Rasul is, in fact, 'der falsche Inder' -- 'falsch' meaning both counterfeit and wrong.)
       Rasul fled Iraq, eventually winding up in Germany. He is also someone who has always been a writer -- beginning with him scribbling on walls "from an early age". Everywhere he goes he is desperate for scraps of paper to write on (not always easy to find or afford, given his situation at times); he also has an unfortunate tendency of mislaying and losing what he's written .....
       Rasul describes his escape and experiences abroad (and what he was escaping in Iraq) not in chronological order, but rather circling through them repeatedly, in chapter after chapter, highlighting different events and stations as he progresses, filling in a variety of details as he returns to yet another description of yet another place along the way. From Iraq he initially went to Jordan; from there, to Libya; on to Europe via Turkey, making it to Greece and eventually through Italy to Germany, where he received asylum (even though he had hoped to continue to Sweden). (Interestingly, America figures nowhere in his plans; it doesn't even seem to be a destination he considered.)
       Regardless of where he is, Rasul knows his ability to remain there for any length of time depends on avoiding the authorities -- and he knows that sooner (usually) or later they'll catch up with him. He is repeatedly deported, incarcerated, and sent back across borders. The situations are never pleasant, but sometimes the way-stations aren't that bad. Occasionally, too, the danger is of a different sort: nature (the river that has to be crossed) or disapproving locals.
       The shadow of the events of September 2001 also has an effect: "From that day, Arabs in Europe lost their smile", always looked upon with suspicion and even feared.
       Rasul makes friends along his way, but few relationships of any sort can be lasting, as they are always being physically torn apart. Disillusionment with other Iraqi exiles comes early, when he goes to Amman and finds opposition members and intellectuals who left because it was hard to live comfortably in Iraq any longer, and who now just pimp themselves out for other regional Arab dictators. He mentions several affairs and a German girlfriend, but seems wary of acknowledging too much -- realizing how easily and quickly all can be lost.
       There's an almost casual feel to Rasul's account, even as he does encounter terrible brutality and even death. Numbed in a way by his rootless wanderings and knowledge that no place is home -- that he is always, in a way, out of place and doesn't seem to quite belong, as he was even as that 'village Indian' in Iraq -- Rasul keeps emotion in check. Fate (and the authorities) have buffeted him too much for him to howl in frustration against them. Nevertheless, the often understated presentation certainly also conveys the enormity of his experience.
       The short closing section returns to the narrator with which the book opened, now arriving in Munich after the train trip on which he read Rasul's manuscript, the framing device neatly bringing the tale to a close with a nice twist. It all makes for an interesting variation on the usual tale of exile, the presentation in particular -- a story that circles repeatedly around, rather than unfolding neatly chronologically, as well as that neat framing device -- making it a more creative variation than most. Its narrator comes across very much as adrift, and one might wish that he revealed more, beyond the surface that he repeatedly glides so smoothly over, but it's still a quite impressive work of (clearly autobiographically-based) fiction.

- M.A.Orthofer, 1 October 2013

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The Village Indian: Reviews: Abbas Khider: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of German literature
  • See Index of Arabic literature

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About the Author:

       Iraqi-born author Abbas Khider lives in Germany.

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© 2013 the complete review

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