Naguib Mahfouz’s Arabian Nights and Days

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4.0 Stars

In Arabian Nights and Days, Mahfouz entwines both social and individual morality. This novel really made me think and question how I view people, society, and morality. If these characters abandoned their beliefs effortlessly in these exceptional circumstances, then one has to wonder: did they ever really have any morals? Were they ever inherently good or were they only good because they had to be? This book was published in 1979 and is still insanely relevant and will continue to be as long as humans remain… well, human.

Mahfouz utilizes genies to explore and analyze humanity’s willingness to abandon their morality and conversely the deep-rooted good people who do the exact opposite. I couldn’t help but repeatedly think about The Walking Dead while reading this. Although both seem very different at first glance, the concept of morality is examined in both narrations. When the zombies attack, everyone and everything goes to shit. Once viewed as noble individuals suddenly became trigger-happy rapists and selfish, thieving, liars.

Throughout Arabian Nights and Days, Mahfouz reminds us that simply because someone presents an appearance of being moral it does not necessarily mean they are. Morality is found etched in a person’s very being; it cannot be altered, regardless of the situation. It should not matter what may happen to that individual, they will keep those beliefs and principles. This is important to view in society today where there are numerous wolves in sheep’s clothing and many cowards disguised as heroes, whether it is in politics, work, or even within our own families. Mahfouz allows the reader to ponder these moral issues from the safe distance of an observer. Towards the beginning of the novel, Umm Saad tells Sanaan al-Gamali, “Under the skin of certain humans lie savage beasts.” This sentence sums up the entire novel. When an individual is put into a dire situation, one can truly view what makes up the person. Arabian Nights and Days leaves the reader wondering if they, themselves, are in fact savage beasts.

I chose to pair this novel with Blue Moon‘s White IPA and (just like the novel) I surprisingly really dug it. So this beer bears similar qualities to other IPAs but the flavoring has a certain twist to it, I’m assuming it’s the exclusive hop strain, Huell Melon. I assumed this was going to be a shitty IPA but I was wrong. Just like some people may seem to be really moral and noble, they may just be deviants and cowards. You never know, haha.

Format: Paperback.

Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

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3.2 Stars

There are a shitload of footnotes, let us just get that out of the way. Also, if you can’t roll with lingo you don’t understand or have to look up, then you’re probably going to be annoyed with this novel.

I dug The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I feel as if this story is the Dominican Republic’s One Hundred Years of Solitude or our House of the Spirits; it is a text that encompasses a nation, its culture, and its people.It’s about three generations of a family that desperately tries to get away but cannot escape the “fuku,” which is in layman’s terms, a curse. I liked that Diaz included some information on the D.R.’s history and of Trujillo. I feel like many people around the world do not know much about this country but need to in order to understand this family. And for us Dominican readers, seeing our slang words, cultural sayings and history in a novel is great and gives a sense of solidarity.

I think this book is more than Oscar wanting to get laid, which is basically the gist of this novel but there is also so much more.  That being said, I found Oscar to be hella annoying. Jesus Christ, I wanted to beat the shit out of this kid. I understand, it’s hard not fitting into the expectations your culture, people and family have set for you but damn, do you really have to be that whiny? I enjoyed everyone else’s stories and histories except for Oscar. Really, every other character was more interesting than him. I loved reading the female voices in the novel and would have probably liked the book better if the book were about them and had Oscar as a side character.

All in all, it was a decent read. (Also, I have to represent the Dominican writers, especially since there are so few of them in the mainstream, American literary game.)

Quotes: “It’s never the changes we want that change everything.”

“For the rest of his short life he existed in an imbecilic stupor, but there were prisoners who remembered moments when he seemed almost lucid, when he would stand in the fields and stare at his hands and weep, as if recalling that there was once a time when he had been more than this.”

I chose to pair this novel with Ballast Point‘s Grapefruit Sculpin because it is a great combination of old and new flavoring, much like Diaz weaves old school Dominican culture with new. Citrus flavoring and hops are usually always a win and the slightly bitter aftertaste is there to remind you it’s an IPA (in case you forgot due to the awesome grapefruit aroma and flavoring). It is reminiscent of all the instances I started to enjoy the novel and then I would read Oscar’s sections and start to like it less. I like drinking this when it is super cold.

Format: Paperback.