Under the Tripoli Sky

Written by Adriana Hunter (trans.) Kamal Ben Hameda
Review by Tom Williams

Under the Tripoli Sky is translated from French. The translation reads well, but the style can seem rather pretentious in English. Not many English writers would describe opening the windows onto a sunlit day by saying that multi-coloured phosphines were skittering around them. Elegant writing is a pleasure, of course, but sometimes this book seems to favour style over substance. And what is the substance? We are in Tripoli, and references to a recent war with Italy suggest that this is historical, in the sense that it is not happening today. I had to turn to the back cover to learn that it is the 1960s. The book addresses the ill-treatment of women in Libyan society, and there are a series of vignettes in which we see women beaten, raped, trapped in loveless marriages or committing suicide to avoid such entrapment. I’m uncomfortable with these accounts by a male author who left Libya almost forty years ago. If you want to read about the mistreatment of women in Muslim societies, you will probably do better with a non-fiction book like The Bookseller of Kabul.

The observations on the lives of women are interspersed with hints of the author’s sexual awakening and confusion, and the book ends with his own small existentialist crisis. “[The moon’s] despairing eyes stared at me in distress; my presence reminded it, yet again, of its deep wound, the wound of being separated from its nurturing mother, the sun.”

If this is the sort of thing you like, you’ll like it. If not, it has the virtue of being very short.