Mama Hissa’s Mice

Amazon Crossing. Dec. 2019. 400p. ISBN 9781542042178. pap. $24.95. F
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.

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