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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Judgment Day

Rasha al Ameer

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To purchase Judgment Day

Title: Judgment Day
Author: Rasha al Ameer
Genre: Novel
Written: 2002 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 250 pages
Original in: Arabic
Availability: Judgment Day - US
Judgment Day - UK
Judgment Day - Canada
Judgment Day - India
Le jour dernier - France
  • Arabic title: يوم الدين
  • Translated and with an Afterword by Jonathan Wright

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Our Assessment:

B : fairly effective account of grappling with religion in the contemporary Arab world

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Star . 21/1/2012 Niamh Fleming-Farrell

  From the Reviews:
  • "Judgment Day is neither a light read nor an easy one. Getting through it is slow going. The usual things that make a book compelling -- plot, character development, humor -- are weak or proscribed, and without knowing what more to seek in the prose, readers are likely to feel deflated if not frustrated. (...) While the prose is heavy and the plot cumbersome, there are moments Wright’s English rendering of Ameer’s writing is truly special. (...) Despite these triumphs, and Wright’s commendable labors, one cannot but feel that, in limiting oneself to the English translation, the reader has been deprived something essential." - Niamh Fleming-Farrell, Daily Star

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Judgment Day is full of dualities: the narrator comes from a poorer Arabic country, but eventually goes to work in a much wealthier one; he is a religious figure -- an imam at a mosque (predictably: the Mosque of the Two Omars) -- but finds himself drawn into a relationship with a woman founded on their shared interest in the poet al-Mutanabbi; the cleric is undone by the conflict between a more strident Islamism and a looser take on religion. Coming from a small backwater town, he eventually finds himself with his own television program, as he embodies -- somewhat uncomfortably -- both modernity and tradition.
       The narrative is addressed to his lover, an Introduction -- which begins: "This is your book" -- already making clear much of what happened: his falling in love, a scandal, and the fact that his life was under threat, "in the name of God, His Prophet, and His Book on charges which may or may not have had divine authority". It is the one-time imam's account of how he got to where he now is -- still fragile, in happy but distant exile, with the woman he loves.
       The narrator comes from a poor family, and he becomes a cleric mainly because he is ill-suited to be a farmer, like most of his family that continues to work the land. He is an unassuming man, generally willing to be led rather than to try to take much initiative himself. He has a mentor of sorts, who is the one who arranges first for his gig as imam abroad, and then facilitates his getting his own TV show.
       As imam he is paid by the state, but also careful to keep church and state separate, where possible. As his mentor ordains:

The basic principle was to keep the mosque out of open conflict between the government and its opponents, to try to prevent a repetition of what he had seen in the past.
       The imam is just the guy for that kind of job. Nevertheless, he also realizes that he is, in a sense, being used -- and that when push comes to shove he has to be clear about his allegiances:
To put it simply, there was no way to combine the state and Islam without compromising one of them or giving one precedence over the other.
       And, religious man though he may be, he admits:
If it comes to choosing between undermining the state and undermining Islam, my preference would be to undermine Islam, gently and slowly !
       Of course, he also has another issue to deal with, as he falls in love with a woman. Interest in the poet al-Mutanabbi brings the woman into his life -- and soon enough "Ahmad al-Mutanabbi became our password". Relatively forward, she draws him in; he doesn't exactly fight it, but it takes a while for him to get comfortable with what is happening.
       Of course, even just their first get-togethers pose a problem. After all:
I am a man who made his living by saying that a man and a woman who are not related should never be alone together as an article of faith inaccessible to doubt, and if I were to argue any other case, I would be vulnerable to accusations of madness or hypocrisy.
       In fact, this particular problem doesn't seem to bother him too much, but the conflict between religious doctrine (and some of its more doctrinaire interpretations) and how he thinks life should go continues to cause problems. Once he has his TV show and is even more in the spotlight -- finding then attendance at his mosque also increasing greatly -- trouble proves even harder to avoid.
       Judgment Day is an interesting take on religion and the Arab world. The narrator is a decent man, but not as devoted to his religion as one might expect for someone who has taken this career path. Seeing both the situations in his homeland and the much wealthier nearby state where he works -- countries that: "share the same religion and language and are in the same region", yet whose paths have diverged so much in recent years that it's like they're on different continents, he suggests -- he is generally wary and careful; both state and religion pose dangers that must be carefully navigated. Ultimately, he is unable to navigate them himself -- but of course he's in luck with the woman who he found (or rather: who found him).
       In his Translator's Afterword Jonathan Wright explains that the original Arabic al Ameer uses in this novel is of the strictly classical style -- something hard to convey in English (both what exactly that style is, and then in its English rendering). Wright says the 'classical' designation is misleading:
On the contrary , Rasha has written with mathematical precision and concision, choosing words with great care from the vast corpus available, and taking full advantage of the morphological twists and turns that the unusual structure of the Arabic language allows.
       The translation does feel stiff and awkward in places, but on the whole works rather well. The account is well-presented, the narrator's voice a convincing one, his account a deep, layered one that evokes a real personality. On the other hand, al Ameer's deliberate effort occasionally strains to beyond breaking with passages such as:
Although I was so aroused that I was leaking what we clerics call preseminal fluid, I was completely confused about my desire for you, not somewhat confused as I said earlier.
       On the whole, however, Judgment Day is an engaging read, with a compelling and convincing narrator, and written in a style that, if not always straightforward is nevertheless intriguing. If the novel falls short in any respect, it is not tying in al-Mutanabbi's poetry into the story well enough: the poet is a significant figure in the text, and the narrator and the woman he loves often discuss him, but he remains far too much a mere academic subject -- a convenient thing to refer to, but not put to much other use. This may be a translation issue, too -- and greater familiarity with the life and work of the poet might reveal a deeper connection, more obvious to Arabic readers than those reading this translation -- but it's too bad, since the name figures so prominently throughout the book.

- M.A.Orthofer, 12 February 2012

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Judgment Day: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Rasha al Ameer (رشا الأمير) is a Lebanese author and publisher.

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© 2012-2021 the complete review

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