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Anubis: A Libyan Novel

Ibrahim al-Koni
Translated by William M. Hutchins
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    A Tuareg youth ventures into trackless desert on a life-threatening quest to find the father he remembers only as a shadow from his childhood, but the spirit world frustrates and tests his resolve. For a time, he is rewarded with the Eden of a lost oasis, but eventually, as new settlers crowd in, its destiny mimics the rise of human civilization. Over the sands and the years, the hero is pursued by a lover who matures into a sibyl-like priestess. The Libyan Tuareg author Ibrahim al-Koni, who has earned a reputation as a major figure in Arabic literature with his many novels and collections of short stories, has used Tuareg folklore about Anubis, the ancient Egyptian god of the underworld, to craft a novel that is both a lyrical evocation of the desert’s beauty and a chilling narrative in which thirst, incest, patricide, animal metamorphosis, and human sacrifice are more than plot devices. The novel concludes with Tuareg sayings collected by the author in his search for the historical Anubis from matriarchs and sages during trips to Tuareg encampments, and from inscriptions in the ancient Tifinagh script in caves and on tattered manuscripts. In this novel, fantastic mythology becomes universal, specific, and modern.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-070-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Translator’s Note
    (pp. vii-xiv)
  4. Author’s Note
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. Part One: Cradle Talk

    • 1 Sunrise
      (pp. 3-7)

      I AWOKE FROM MY SLUMBERS at sunrise and had to struggle to open my eyes. Then I watched a hesitant, golden radiance stretch across the band of the horizon to flood the naked, eternal desert strewn with ash-gray pebbles. The melancholy barrenness shocked me, but I was overjoyed to see streams of golden light pour across the exposed land and inundate an aweinspiring world, which was mysterious despite its nudity, perhaps because it spread and stretched out endlessly, with no tree or boulder to obstruct its forlorn progress till it reached the blue sky, which was also bare and just...

    • 2 Forenoon
      (pp. 8-11)

      With the assistance of my Ma, I began to rehabilitate my tongue, for I had lost control of it during my journey through the unknown. I remembered obscurely that I had once mastered this astonishing organ, even though I did not know how I had lost control of it. Apparently, while I slept I had lost the tongue’s secret along with the secret of my prior existence. I attempted to recall my previous day with heroic courage, but gained nothing for my heroism save a cryptic sign comparable to the prophetic one I had detected in the mien of the...

    • 3 When the Flocks Head Home
      (pp. 12-22)

      The rules governing origins seem to be no less authoritative than the law’s own rules. In other words, I began to discover that I had inherited my wanderlust from a source personified by the shadow squatting by the tent post, from the figure Ma referred to as Ba the day she taught me names. I did not get a good look at this creature, just a glimpse, and so it seemed fitting for me to think of him as a shadowy apparition. Even though he had not taught me the names, as my Ma had, had not hugged me to...

    • 4 Late Afternoon
      (pp. 23-29)

      I awoke from my sleep, feeling shattered . . . the way a person feels when wresting himself from the jumbled confusions of a nightmare. My body seemed sunk in the ground, as if buried under a mountain, and my limbs felt like rocks. My head throbbed with unbearable pain, and my tongue was paralyzed. Although I could open my eyes, my tongue refused to budge. What was the meaning of this?

      I found myself imprisoned inside a tent within a tent. Even though I was restrained, I could see outside, through the entrance, and discern the time of day....

    • 5 Dusk
      (pp. 30-34)

      As dusk descended, she chased me between the tents and pursued me out into the nearby open areas. She positioned her index finger in her mouth, just as she had so often done while a babe in the cradle. She crept after me as obstinately as a fly, just as she had done when she was still a toddler. For the twentieth time she said, “If you accompany me to Retem Ravine, I’ll tell you a secret.”

      “You’re lying!”

      “You won’t regret it.”

      “I know this trick.”

      “You won’t regret it.”

      She spoke while continuing to suck on her finger....

    • 6 Night
      (pp. 35-38)

      Those vipers known as women bit me early in life: an émigrée visitor to the villages bit me on the hand. The tribe, for some reason I never knew, called her Tamnukalt, or “Princess,” and treated her with respect and pomp. She was rather haughty with an imperious bearing, a full body, a white complexion, and a beautiful face. Her eyes had an expression I understood only with hindsight; as that fang the tribe’s sages call “lust.” As I later realized, she was able to infect me with it, because I did not know its name. She moved from tent...

    • 7 Last Watch of the Night
      (pp. 39-42)

      I set out to search for the priest, but he had disappeared from the settlement. I consulted the nobles, but they all agreed that they knew nothing of his whereabouts. I asked the matriarchs, and one of them commented that priests are a race comparable to the jinn’s offspring, who disappear whenever we search for them and reappear only when we do not expect them.

      I went to the grisly tomb whose stones the priest had soaked with my mother’s blood, according to the neighbor-girl’s account, but did not find him there either. I traveled to the pastures and questioned...

    • 8 Dawn
      (pp. 43-48)

      We met at the curve of the ravine as she headed toward the pasture with her flocks. When she caught sight of my bloodstained shirt, she gasped in alarm but did not release her index finger, which she sucked to mask her alarm. She was hard to understand while she chewed on her finger. “What’s this? Did you slaughter a kid or a billygoat?”

      “Yes, indeed; I’ve slaughtered a billygoat. Yesterday I slaughtered a black goat.”

      She stared at me skeptically before continuing: “Was it a sacrifice?”

      “Yes, indeed, a sacrifice.”

      I gazed at her black eyes, which were as...

  6. Part Two: Passionate Talk

    • 1 First Light
      (pp. 51-57)

      I awoke at sunrise and found myself alone, abandoned, and stretched out in a harsh, solitary area into which intruded stubborn spines of sand. It was blocked to the west and north by a desert punctuated by grim mountain cliffs, around the sides of which the sands twisted in relentless swirls. A discrete, early light kissed their peaks, but the tips of the sand drifts were bathed with morning’s flood, and glinting gold specks flashed there.

      I awoke but lay quiet for a long time, listening to a stillness that I was prepared to believe—I don’t know why—eternal,...

    • 2 Midday
      (pp. 58-61)

      The power that enabled me to speed through the air helped me mingle with the herds, of which I became a member from that day on. In the lowlands I bounded with the gazelle fawns. I ascended mountain crags with the Barbary sheep kids. I nursed beside them, sucking milk from their mothers’ teats, and we competed for the plants that grew on the plains and for the roots of vegetation on the mountain flanks. We shared the dates strewn beneath the palms. The intimidating gazelle with the horns of a Barbary ram had become a mother and father for...

    • 3 Afternoon
      (pp. 62-68)

      The clouds lifted and the sky lost its distinguishing features, but the earth remained soaked from the downpour. I plunged into the mires in the valleys to rejoin the herds. I saw a knot of gazelles in the northern plains, but they shied away from me. I moved a few steps closer, but they looked alarmed, prepared to flee, and stamped the earth with their hooves. When I advanced still farther, they shot off all together, as if fleeing from a jackal. I rushed off too and caught up with them before I knew it, but the herd continued to...

    • 4 Evening
      (pp. 69-73)

      I headed for the cavern decorated with the wisdom of the ancients and spent several days there. I did not feel like eating and was disgusted by everything, even the hunk of meat that had sparked greed in my heart the day lightning incinerated the ewe formed from the body of a gazelle and the head of a Barbary ram.

      Whenever I recalled that taste, I saw in my mind the image of the Barbary ewe that had fled from me forcing from her body her stillborn lamb—a-swirl in fluids—and her last breaths. Then I was unable to...

    • 5 Dusk
      (pp. 74-81)

      With this bloody escapade commenced my break with the herds. Thereafter my animal kin shunned me and braved the heights to cross over into unknown realms.

      The gazelles migrated to the north, crossing lofty, sand-strewn peaks to cast themselves into the mighty sea of sand. The Barbary sheep clans migrated to the south, scaling the circle of southern mountains and crossing into the trackless deserts that lead to mountain chains with surging peaks, about which the tribes recount fantastic legends as part of epics handed down from their forefathers. I first followed the gazelles’ trail in their journey northward but...

    • 6 After Midnight
      (pp. 82-84)

      “The prophet of exploration guided us,” said the first strangers when they reached my oasis. I hurried out to greet them before I could mask my astonishment. Once they had descended through the pass between the sandy mountains of the west and the rocky ones of the south, I asked: “Who are you?”

      The elder leading them replied: “Wanderers parched by thirst.”

      “How did you cross the rocky wastes to reach here?”

      “The prophet of exploration guided us.”


      “Please postpone your amazement till later and give us water from your spring.”

      I led them to the nearest of my...

    • 7 Daybreak
      (pp. 85-92)

      The sight of the two camels freely roaming the plains, as their bodies vanished up to their chests in grass the desert had generously offered, after being irrigated by the heavy, recent downpours, stirred in my soul happiness of the rare species that we can experience but fail to verbalize when we try. The mystery of this sensation frequently left me wondering whether its cause was the sight of the two beasts of burden, the vision of the lush grass, the temperate weather, my carefree existence, or the conjunction of all these blessings. I can testify that the sensation not...

    • 8 Morning
      (pp. 93-96)

      Finding myself embraced by solitude once more, I sang my sorrows, chanted my loneliness, and in verse questioned my true nature. I was tormented by yearnings for the unknown and attempted to work off my longings among the rocky boulders. I contrived to cut solid rock into a splendid statue and determined to erect it as a landmark, thus satisfying an unexplained craving that I sensed as a persistent, hushed call in my soul, even though I had never managed to grasp it intellectually. I thought the statue excellent. Washed each morning by rays from my master Ragh, it whispered...

  7. Part Three:: Grave Talk

    • 1 Early Morning
      (pp. 99-105)

      I struggled all my life to reach my eternal father in the higher world, but my father would only consent to appoint me his deputy in the lower world. I wrestled all my days to reach him in the heavens, but he chose to appoint me sovereign of a dirt-covered foothill over which roam the shades that burden the earth.

      In later times, caravans stormed me. I did not know whether they were commanded by jinn from the spirit world or by the spawn of men. I asked them repeatedly what they really were, but every time they replied, in...

    • 2 Midday
      (pp. 106-113)

      At first i shared my bedroom with Tin Hinan, because I considered this cunning creature my spouse. Once the people made me priest of the temple, the goddess Tanit visited me, while I was between sleeping and waking, and asked me to bring my spouse into the shrine to keep me company there too. I did that, although I obeyed out of respect for the gods’ secrets and not out of any conviction about the true nature of women. All the same, I soon discovered the wisdom of this advice. In fact the shejinni’s voice, which had once shaken the...

    • 3 Afternoon
      (pp. 114-120)

      I was prowling through the caves of the ancestors in the southern mountain range when my slave Hur arrived, bearing good news.

      I descended the mountain behind him and heard the hymns of longing before I reached the base of the cliff. Circumambulating the sanctuary were sages preceded by the oldest and most venerable one. He carried a doll, which was wrapped in a hide lined with goat hair, tossed it in the air from time to time, and then caught it again as he raised his voice in a sacred, heart-rending psalm to conciliate the spirit world. The group...

    • 4 Sunset
      (pp. 121-129)

      One day, shortly after sunset, the sages escorted me to the congregation and their leaders told me that the time had come for me to assume power. They first discussed the law, telling me that its prophetic dicta are divided into two parts. The first half facilitates the affairs of this world and the second preserves our relationship with the spirit world. To the second belong those abstruse texts devoted to the community’s incontrovertible class structure. The most venerable of them stepped toward me and thrust in my face a scrap of hide imprinted with cryptic symbols. Then he said...

    • 5 Evening
      (pp. 130-148)

      The really big mistake I made was to toy with another doll beside my wife. My experience notwithstanding, I did not know that a woman is capable of forgiving her husband the foulest misdeeds and the gravest sins so long as he does not supplant her with a baby doll, since a woman is less threatened by a cowife than by a doll, which forces her to face the fact that she too is a doll, shaken and exposed to the worst perils. Unfortunately, my yearning for amusement made me forget myself and neglect this secret truth about dolls until...

    • 6 The Slip
      (pp. 149-155)

      I found myself in my desert, cleansing myself with the last drops of my mirage and roaming through the endless expanse of my open countryside. I returned to my solitude and believed in my solitude, since only solitude is real. The evidence for this claim is that within its confines I had no need for entertainment in order to live. I discovered life-threatening entertainment to be an innovation created by the lassitude of oases. The antidote to this malady is closer to us than the jugular vein, since it rushes to greet us as soon as we venture into the...

    • 7 False Dawn
      (pp. 156-159)

      The wanderer’s prophecy about a son who set off in search of his father awakened in my chest a forgotten longing for my child. So I began to hunt for news of his fate, but the vast desert had swallowed him. Wanderers, herdsmen, and leaders of caravans brought me no news of him. Instead, they provided me with information about plots being hatched between key figures in the assembly on the one hand and elite figures in the palace on the other. It was reported that the “Master of the Troop,” as he was known by inhabitants of the oasis...

    • 8 Morning
      (pp. 160-168)

      The hostile tribes tightened their stranglehold over the oasis, and the people suffered cruelly from oppressive taxes. The assembly’s specialists in false doctrine learned that there is no turning back for foolhardy persons who have committed evil hastily, for they cannot limit the price of repentance to surrendering and paying tribute to the victor. The price is, rather, unlimited, never-ending submission. This is what happened to the oasis in its risky campaign against neighboring tribes. News reached me of the people’s anger and unhappiness with the rule by falsehood’s partisans, who treated them to stinging humiliation and doled out bitter...

  8. Part Four Aphorisms of Anubis
    (pp. 169-182)

    When we scorn a friend’s advice we act according to an enemy’s.

    Woman resists man’s seductions only to submit, whereas man risks his life seducing a woman only to withdraw.

    The homeland is a phoenix, for its body is in the sultan’s hands, but its spirit lives in the poet’s heart.

    We surrender ourselves to a minor death, which we call “sleep” and which can renew our life for another day, whereas we reject the major sleep we term “death,” even though this might renew our life for eternity.

    Stars are pinpricks of conscience in the heart of the sky....

  9. Glossary of Tuareg Terms
    (pp. 183-186)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 187-188)