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Life on Hold

Life on Hold: A Saudi Arabian Novel

Translated by Jonathan Wright
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 128
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt15m7ftf
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  • Book Info
    Life on Hold
    Book Description:

    Riyadh is a city of masks, a city “like a pressure cooker that’s about to explode," a city that sleeps on a pile of words that no one dares utter. Saudi society has split into two camps, one adopting the slogan that God is strict in punishment, the other that God is merciful and forgiving. In the background the media trumpets that everything is perfect. Saudi writer Fahd al-Atiq explores this world through the character of Khaled, whose dysfunctional life, humdrum but rich in memories and introspection, bridges the gap between the old impoverished world of Najd and the consumerism of the years after the various oil booms, symbolized in this novel by the family’s move from the lively back streets of the old city to an isolated dream villa in the new suburbs, where their dreams are never quite fulfilled and their lives remain permanently ‘on hold.’

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-337-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Body and Soul
    (pp. 1-9)

    The days are all much alike here.

    But drama class is preferable to drawing class.

    Perhaps.

    In drawing class at primary school, Khaled drew the face of a girl with a short plait. The teacher stood behind him and marked an X on the girl’s neck.

    That girl with the plait, she’s the reason for his constant pangs of conscience. It was to her dark shadow that Khaled went one night, all eyes and fingers, to explore her young body. She was submissive, he was frightened, and neither of them knows what happened that night when her childhood danced. She...

  3. The Silence of Things
    (pp. 10-24)

    In the morning Khaled ate a cheese triangle with a piece of bread and drank his cup of tea standing up. Then he went out. He was thinking of many things, while behind him many things were falling apart. He thought about the questions the psychiatrist had asked on his first visit and what he would ask in the next session. On the way to work he was distracted. All he could see was the black snake of asphalt stretching in front of him until he reached the office and signed the register late. Then he headed to the clinic,...

  4. Life on Hold
    (pp. 25-34)

    All his friends left after midnight except for Walid, who stayed in the sitting room reading the newspapers. Khaled went into the bedroom, closed the curtains, and turned the air conditioning on. He lay on his back, nauseous after only two glasses, and feeling pain all over his drugged body.

    He said to himself,I’m not going to die. No one dies before his time, before destiny calls. And before death there comes a pervasive smell. That’s how some people know their time is drawing near, several days before the end. I don’t feel my time is approaching now, even...

  5. A Hazy Waking State
    (pp. 35-43)

    He hung up the phone and felt something new coursing through his veins.

    On the way to the room he felt saddened.

    He stopped and looked at his face in the mirror that stood in the middle of the sitting room. Absurdly, he felt that some stray object was going to break through the wall behind him and lodge in his back.

    He shivered and ducked a little. In the wake of that sudden feeling, he realized he had suppressed a laugh at what was happening outside, but he continued to enjoy the idea of that stray object that was...

  6. Another Life
    (pp. 44-64)

    Now . . . another life.

    In the beginning, he only wanted to activate his dormant memory.

    He was looking at the blank paper in grave silence.

    A beautiful image was now in front of him:

    A piece of paper . . . and silence.

    A blank, silent piece of paper, on which he counted from one to ten, with no real desire to write, and in front of him there was a blank canvas.

    He was thinking about those pieces of paper preserved long ago in the dark chambers of his soul, or his head, or his madness.

    Silent...

  7. The Taste of Sugar
    (pp. 65-87)

    He began having powerful thoughts about sex, starting from a particular moment that was like a spark that set his body on fire. One Friday morning, when he went to the local bakery, he found it full of men and boys and girls waiting in a long line. He stood with them, awaiting his turn, and after ten minutes a girl slightly younger than him pushed into the line and stood between him and her younger brother. She stepped back to make space for her brother and their bodies touched. Her hair brushed his face and he caught a whiff...

  8. Another Place
    (pp. 88-94)

    The morning blazed early that day. Khaled woke to a sky that radiated scorching heat and went out to the street to wait, in the hopes of glimpsing her pretty face seeing them off to their new neighborhood. He stood on the doorstep by the wooden door, happy as a lark. He went out into the lane in case she was there. She might look out at them; she might hear their voices in the lane and appear. Now her face dominated everything he saw. She might come out now and sit on the doorstep of her house, put her...

  9. A Soul Departs
    (pp. 95-101)

    It was his father who felt most uncomfortable, but with the passage of time he started to get used to the new place. Every weekend, however, he would ask his son to drive him to their old neighborhood. Khaled would drop him off in front of Sheikh Ibrahim’s real estate office every Thursday afternoon and come back after evening prayers.

    Relatives stopped visiting his mother except on important occasions, but she made friends with her new neighbors, and his brother Ahmad would still meet up with young men in the local mosque or stay away from home for days on...

  10. A Mysterious Image
    (pp. 102-108)

    No one asks about anything in this Riyadh.

    This city’s people are used to its monotony, to its indifference, to its strident silence, to the fact that the walls have ears.

    A deep silence that makes everything the same.

    Khaled lived face to face with the bustle of the streets and the houses: a coarse, meaningless noise in a city that doesn’t know if it’s pious or decadent, a city that doesn’t say what it thinks and feels, a city that sleeps on a huge pile of words not yet uttered, a silencer-city like a pressure cooker in which the...

  11. The Sound of Silence
    (pp. 109-118)

    In rare moments a sudden desire to cry, like a flash of lightning but as deep as the ocean, would take him by surprise, and he would ask of this painful desire: “Why don’t you come more often and linger a while, so that I can grasp some of your secrets?”

    An incandescent voice from the past intruded every evening and told Khaled in a whisper, “Be who you are, and no one else.”

    Now he felt as if he was looking at the world through a small hole in the wall of his silent house. The darkness was growing...