The recently translated Mama Hissa’s Mice, by Saud Alsanousi, takes readers to a place where few American readers have ventured: Kuwait…[readers] will discover beautiful writing about the Arab world that includes Mama Hissa’s fables. As a character to be culturally translated, Mama Hissa will challenge readers…which leaves readers hungry for even more insight into a country and culture rarely considered in Western literature.” —The Washington Post
“It may be tough to read complex novels in these days of social media platforms and fast food fiction, but Mama Hissa’s Mice by Saud Al-Sanousi, translated by Sawad Hussain, is worth your time…The novel is intermittently sarcastically comic and harrowingly tragic. Interspersing past and present, the author shows how the every day, every action reverberates into the future. Thus, this book is both a coming of age novel and a contemporary look at the ongoing violence in the Middle East and Persian Gulf States…This novel should be used in classrooms to educate students about what got the world to this place. The novel has a place on the general reader’s bookshelf because of lovable Katkout and his desire to do the right thing despite every reason to do the contrary.” —New York Journal of Books
“Mama Hissa’s Mice is a deeply emotive novel set in a time and place where dangers abound and nothing is certain any more. Saud Alsanousi has created a fine addition to Middle Eastern literature.” —Authorlink
“Alsanousi peppers a grim historical narrative of Kuwait with generous doses of warmth doled out by the lively Mama Hissa, Katkout’s grandmother…A cast of colorful characters winningly delivers the sights and smells of Kuwait…YAs will appreciate the deep bonds of friendship among Katkout, Fahd, and Sadiq as they grow up in each other’s homes.” —Booklist
“Translator Sawad Hussain has succeeded in bringing this beautiful, affecting novel to an English-reading audience and has captured clearly the emotional, political, and aesthetic concerns preoccupying the book.” —National Public Radio
“Mama Hissa’s Mice is a rich and resonant book that asks more questions than it (or anyone) can answer: What do stories—of past grudges, of present loves, of friendship despite historical differences—mean? How do they shape our realities? How much power do we have to change these stories? At times bleak and at others uplifting—the arrival of a young girl who believes in Fuada’s Kids’ mission toward the end of the novel feels like a symbol of hope and future possibility—Alsanousi’s book, reflective of his own particular country, culture and sociopolitical context, can serve as both window and mirror to Western readers.” —National Public Radio
“Mama Hissa’s Mice by author Saud Alsanousi is a deftly crafted and inherently fascinating novel that is unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library Contemporary Literary Fiction collections.” —Midwest Book Review
“Mama Hissa’s Mice…takes on these serious issues with a passion, but it’s also written with a fair amount of emotion, empathy, and even black humor.” —The National
This follow-up to The Bamboo Stalk, winner of the 2013 International Prize for Arabic Fiction, is an asynchronous work featuring narrator Katkout and his childhood companions Fahd and Sadiq. Having survived the 1990 Iraqi invasion of their country, Kuwait, the friends call themselves Fuada's Kids after a popular TV series and take to the radio to express their dissatisfaction with the growing tension between the Sunni and Shi'a sects. In Alsanousi's fictional future, the sectarian violence quickly intensifies, verging on all-out civil war. When the three friends increase their outspokenness, both Sunni and Shi'a turn their wrath on them. Alsanousi creates especially heartwarming scenes between Katkout and two key women figures, Fahd's grandmother Mama Hissa and Fawzia, Mama Hissa's daughter. Katkout's memories, nostalgic and sometimes funny even while recalling the horror of the invasion, contrast sharply with the somewhat frenzied present-day account of the chaos produced by the sectarian conflict and amplified by Katkout's desperate and dangerous search when his friends go missing. VERDICT Unfortunately, the social disorder experienced by the main characters is mirrored in the plot, complicating an already complex story, and uneven pacing detracts from the novel's exploration into whether friendships can overcome generations of religious and ethnic differences. No match for Alsanousi's well-received debut.—Faye Chadwell, Oregon State Univ., Corvallis
Three boys grow up together in Kuwait.
Katkout, Fahd, and Sadiq are about 12 when their native Kuwait is occupied by Iraqi forces. Some of the boys are Sunni, some Shiite, but all of them—and their families—suffer during the occupation. Katkout narrates this uneven novel from a distance, alternating between the late 1980s and the present day. Katkout's parents happened to be in London just before Kuwait was invaded. They were stuck outside the country, with Katkout stranded at Fahd's house, sharing a bedroom with Fahd's grandmother Mama Hissa. In the present day, Katkout has formed a resistance group with Fahd and Sadiq; they've named it Fuada's Kids, after a TV show they watched as kids. Readers who aren't already familiar with Kuwaiti history and culture might have trouble following some of these events. Alsanousi (The Bamboo Stalk, 2015) can be engaging, and many of his descriptions are vivid. But the movement of the novel feels stilted. The narrative jolts from one timeline to another, but neither one of them has a steady momentum. It's unfortunate, too, that neither Fahd nor Sadiq emerges as a fully formed character. That Fahd loves music is as close as we get to his inner state. Sadiq is a mystery. As for Katkout, it's unclear why he spends most of his narrative describing Fahd's family (but not Fahd himself) rather than his own. There are moving scenes between Katkout and Mama Hissa, but these don't make up for the rest of the novel's sprawl.
Uneven prose and flat characters detract from this novel's many ambitions.