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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Allah's Spacious Earth

Omar Sayfo

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To purchase Allah's Spacious Earth

Title: Allah's Spacious Earth
Author: Omar Sayfo
Genre: Novel
Written: 2017 (Eng. 2023)
Length: 194 pages
Original in: Hungarian
Availability: Allah's Spacious Earth - US
Allah's Spacious Earth - UK
Allah's Spacious Earth - Canada
from: Bookshop.org (US)
directly from: Syracuse University Press
  • Hungarian title: Allah tágas földje
  • Translated by Paul Olchváry

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Our Assessment:

B : solid -- and depressingly close to too many contemporary circumstances

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Allah's Spacious Earth is set some time "well into the twenty-first century" but the world is not much more technologically advanced than our present-day one -- the only significant difference being that surveillance drones seem much more advanced and their use more widespread. There has, however, been a considerable political reälignment, with the European nations coälescing into a Pan-European Federation while across the Mediterranean they now face a unified North African Union.
       Narrator Nasim begins his story in his late teens. He is the son of immigrants, born in and a citizen of this European country and with little connection to the Arab homeland that his family came from. He is nominally Muslim, but hardly religious.
       Nasim and his family live in what is called the Zone, an immigrant neighborhood whose separation from the rest of the city is reïnforced by the river which: "separated our home from the outside world like a national border". It is not entirely cut off, but can be, for those who want it that way, a world of its own:

Anyone who wanted to could live out his life without ever venturing into other parts of the city. Those who could got work inside the Zone, and if that didn't pan out, they commuted between the Zone and their workplace, cutting their route to the shortest distance and the shortest time possible.
       It's not an actual ghetto, but it is a marginalized place, with the claims of fear of terrorism giving the government cover to clamp down on its population more heavily than elsewhere.
       When he is in his teens, there are still frequent and widespread protests which Nasim participates in, including clashes with the police -- though he's always careful to stay mostly out of harm's way. Participation gives him a sense of purpose: "This was why we'd come. Finally we mattered".
       Politicians use the occasional excess, as well as some terrorist acts, to stir up and frighten the population. As is all too familiar from recent history, a 'Patriotic Front' party enjoys success -- and pushes the originally more mainstream Conservative party ever rightward. His account covering more than a decade, Nasim notes the gradual change in government and policy, culminating in a 'New Loyalist Act' in increasingly harsh iterations ("the latest installment of the New Loyalist Act permitted only state-sanctioned religious institutions to operate") pushed by the Conservative leaders, which pushes refugees and immigrants ever more into a corner (and, eventually, into some very dark and distant corners).
       Growing up in the Zone, Nasim doesn't really have an opportunity to follow his dream of becoming a journalist, but he at least keeps a journalistic suspicion of much of the news that is spread -- misinformation of various sorts. He finds himself: "looking on helplessly as all that crap buried my buddies like lava", and finds that trying to fight the flood comes at too high a cost as well.
       Though a citizen -- and not even a dual-citizen, as many other immigrants are, having kept that tie to their homelands (which is then turned against them) --, even Nasim isn't entirely safe from the ever-tightening noose of public policy. He eventually loses his job, his: "activity on public portals" sufficient cause for termination, as this is now a society where, among the examples Nasim offers, someone can be arrested for playing an online game in which they belong to a "clan called Global Caliphate", as: "The authorities took dead-seriously every single sign of terrorism and even suggested support of terrorism" and could all too easily see it even in something like that.
       Allah's Spacious Earth isn't a brutal, extreme dystopia; rather, Sayfo's is a chronicle of authoritarian creep, the destroying especially of more marginal lives but also of society in general by a thousand small cuts (and a few bigger, more heavy-handed ones). Much is all too familiar, from post-2001 America to contemporary Hungary, Turkey, India, and to a rhetoric gaining popularity again in countries including Italy, France, Germany, and the UK. Sayfo largely avoids the sensational; his isn't a loud warning but -- all the more depressingly -- feels all too plausible, a future that so many countries could so easily drift into (and which several already have).
       The writing is solid, but, like Nasim himself, the novel does drift a bit. The episodes and occurrences are engaging enough, but it's all a bit loose and aimless (even as Sayfo's aim and target is abundantly clear). It makes for a decent read, though packing less of an immediate punch than the dystopian fiction most readers are used to.

- M.A.Orthofer, 27 July 2023

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Allah's Spacious Earth: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Hungarian-writing author Omar Sayfo was born in 1982.

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© 2023 the complete review

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