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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Hedgehog

Zakaria Tamer

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To purchase The Hedgehog

Title: The Hedgehog
Author: Zakaria Tamer
Genre: Fiction
Written: (Eng. 2009)
Length: 168 pages
Original in: Arabic
Availability: The Hedgehog - US
The Hedgehog - UK
The Hedgehog - Canada
The Hedgehog - India
  • A Modern Arabic Novella and Short Stories
  • Includes the novella The Hedgehog (2005) (Arabic title: القنفذ), translated by Brian O'Rourke, and stories translated by Denys Johnson-Davies (some previously published in Tigers on the Tenth Day (1985))

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Our Assessment:

B : appealing variety

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The Hedgehog includes both the short episodic title-novella and twenty-seven additional short stories, apparently taken from a number of Tamer's collections.
       'The Hedgehog' is narrated by a five-year-old boy, and fairly amusingly describes how he tries to make sense of the mysterious adult world (and, indeed, the world in general around him). Since the adults are generally not satisfactorily responsive, the walls and trees talk back to him -- all part of an imaginary world he uses to try to help him make sense of things.
       The stories are full of childish reasoning, as when he is asked what he wants to be when he grows up and he explains he wants to become a thief:

I'll steal from the poor and give what I steal to the rich so that everyone will become rich, and not a single poor person will be left.
       And when he finds his older brother's stash of magazines with pictures of nude women (the wall told him where they were hidden ...) he wonders why his brother pays for magazines to see: "what I see for free when I'm at the public bath with my mother."
       The remaining stories in the collection are much more varied, describing often harsh conditions and circumstances, but generally with a somewhat satirical edge. Some are very blunt, as in the effective allegory, 'Tigers on the Tenth Day', which describes how a tiger is tamed and concludes devastatingly:
     On the tenth day the trainer, the pupils, the tiger, and the cage disappeared -- the tiger became a citizen and the cage a city.
        In 'Death of the Jasmine' a woman becomes a teacher, but her class of seven-year-olds are preternaturally (and predatorily) adult -- even while retaining elements of their childishness; it ends creepily with them pulling her clothes off as she lies on the floor and:
a frenzied sense of alarm suddenly seized her as the small teeth began gnawing her flesh and striking against solid bone.
       Though the stories are short they tend to be very dense, too, and it often isn't clear from the start where Tamer will wind up going with his tale. Violence -- political and personal --, sex, and politics mix in many of them, often to surprising effect. A story such as 'The Smile', in which a boy walks in on his mother having sex with a stranger and also imagines being executed is a typical impressive riff in the space of a single page.
       Often unsettling, and rarely with anything like a conventional happy ending, Tamer's stories are weightier than most, and even a short collection like this presents a great deal of material to deal with, making it hard to get through in a single sitting.
       The Hedgehog is a good introduction to the work of the author.

- M.A.Orthofer, 7 September 2009

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The Hedgehog: Other books by Zakaria Tamer under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Syrian author Zakaria Tamer (زكريا تامر) was born in 1931. He has lived in London since 1981.

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