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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Amir Tag Elsir

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To purchase Telepathy

Title: Telepathy
Author: Amir Tag Elsir
Genre: Novel
Written: 2015 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 165 pages
Original in: Arabic
Availability: Telepathy - US
Telepathy - UK
Telepathy - Canada
Telepathy - India
  • Arabic title: طقس
  • Translated by William Hutchins

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Our Assessment:

B : nicely haunting writer's-tale

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Jordan Times . 6/11/2016 Sally Bland
The Kuwait Times . 14/8/2015 Jamie Etheridge
The National . 4/6/2015 Matthew Adams

  From the Reviews:
  • "Amir Tag Elsir plots a quirky, fast-paced novel that explores the blurred boundaries between fact and fiction, the power of words over reality, and the unexpected perils of the writing profession." - Sally Bland, The Jordan Times

  • "A short read, Telepathy is hindered by clunky writing. Whether itís the original Arabic or the translation by William Hutchins, the writing fails the plot. In English, the story bumps along the narrative road like an overloaded donkey cart." - Jamie Etheridge, The Kuwait Times

  • "Telepathy is an entertaining and thoughtful novel that raises interesting questions about the nature of creativity, forgiveness and identity. It is a shame, then, that its many infelicities leave us not with the resonant literary exploration of those themes that lies within Elsirís grasp, but rather (to borrow a phrase from the start of his novel) with a story that shows evidence of a fertile imagination, but is often poorly written." - Matthew Adams, The National

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:

       Telepathy is narrated by a successful Sudanese writer who finds that his most recent novel, Hunger's Hopes turns out to be closer to real life than he had any reason to believe it could. It is entirely a product of his own fantasy, dashed off in a month -- and yet after it has been published he encounters a man who shares the name and basic attributes of its protagonist, Nishan Hamza Nishan.
       The author is baffled. It's not like he doesn't take inspiration from his own experiences:

But even when I find inspiration from reality, I don't write it down the way it is but rather change it so that it wouldn't wound anyone; I don't allow reality to assert its dominion.
       And even as he has used many people he has known in his works, no one has ever recognized themselves in the versions that appeared in his fiction. Now, however, he finds a complete stranger is a real-life counterpart, with identical name and everything, to a character he thought he had invented. He has his doubts, of course, and thinks Nishan might be some kind of fraud, but in checking up on him finds that, while some things remain rather vague, Nishan seems ... authentic.
       The author had his character long work in a school, eventually managing to complete his own schooling on the side as well, so that when he was forty-five he finally graduated from secondary school -- and was ready to go on to university, where he hoped to study law and become a judge. In the novel, the character's plans are, however, dashed when he contracts "seasonal schizophrenia", becoming dangerously mentally unbalanced for a month or two a year.
       The author isn't entirely sure what to do about Nishan, but decides to involve himself in his life, even finding a place for him to live and hiring someone to take care of him (though that doesn't quite work out), and then paying his medical expenses when he has to be institutionalized after another seasonal schizophrenic attack (since the real-life Nishan has these too).
       While this odd coïncidence that he has apparently unknowingly written a real person into his fiction preöccupies the author he also distances itself from it at times, and there are quite a few other things going on in his life. There is a back-and-forth with a young writer, Najma, who wants his advice -- and more -- and who he winds up trying to avoid. There is an enthusiastic reader of his whom he has never met in person whom he finds himself drawn to, eventually even envisioning a possible future with her -- only to find that reality here is tragically different from how he had imagined it in his mind's eye. His inquiries into Nishan, and his search for the man himself, also lead him to unusual places and people, and he interacts with a variety of others, too, including former students of his, as he had long been a maths teacher before turning to writing.
       For a writer, the narrator of Telepathy is surprisingly active -- almost constantly moving about and dealing with all sorts of people and situations. He tends to go his own way, and he does actively avoid people and situations (and texts) at times, but on the whole he has a lot going on in his life. All this bustle can seem a bit distracting in the novel, yet many of these are interesting scenes in their own right, and in fact much of this -- especially his closer relationships -- could easily have been developed more fully. Much of the appeal of the novel is in these unusual encounters he has, which Tag Elsir handles particularly well.
       The author's efforts to determine the truth about Nishan and how he might have found his way into his novel are ultimately confounded when Nishan disappears. Yet the author of course can't quite let go, continuing to look for him and to mull over the odd circumstances, as "this puzzle staggered on without any resolution".
       Without solely making Telepathy about this unusual combining of fact and fiction, Tag Elsir nevertheless builds up a solid variation on this not entirely novel premise -- but the success of the novel comes with the padding, more of which supports the main story than is immediately apparent, as the narrator of Telepathy finds the 'dominion of reality' has a way of asserting itself regardless of how much he thinks he is in control of both his facts and fictions. So also Tag Elsir concludes the novel with the perfect scene, an image equally effective literally and metaphorically that nicely shakes the reader's certainty about everything that came before.
       There's a bit of a slapdash feel to Telepathy, the rushed narrator perhaps understandably in a fairly constant unsettled state, his thoughts pulled in so many directions, and there are many scenes and circumstances that would have benefitted from more exposition, but it's an enjoyably lively story with some effectively haunting twists.

- M.A.Orthofer, 9 December 2016

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Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Sudanese author and doctor Amir Tag Elsir (أمير تاج السر) was born in 1960. He currently lives in Qatar.

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