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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Life on Hold

Fahd al-Atiq

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Title: Life on Hold
Author: Fahd al-Atiq
Genre: Novel
Written: 2004 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 113 pages
Original in: Arabic
Availability: Life on Hold - US
Life on Hold - UK
Life on Hold - Canada
Life on Hold - India
  • Arabic title: كائن مؤجل
  • Translated by Jonathan Wright

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Our Assessment:

B+ : effective novella of Saudi anomie in rapidly modernizing Riyadh

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Life on Hold centers on Khaled, who grew up and lives in Riyadh but finds himself in a continuing and seemingly inescapable rut; typically: "Khaled got a dream job, but it turned into monotonous drudgery." Riyadh is rapidly transformed during his lifetime, with the most radical change coming when he and his family are literally uprooted and move from the neighborhood that has long been the family's home, yet life is also marked by many of the fundamentals remaining unchanging:

     The days are all much the same here.
     The truth remains elusive.
     Especially now, in this age, everything is in an elusive state.
     In this city of masks, the days have been much the same in their tedium since distant times.
       Khaled feels: "a deep sense of alienation". Little is meaningful to him. He went through a youthful "incoherent form of rebellion", but recognized it for what it was -- a feeble effort to feel something different and to "distance himself from the monotony of their neighborhood" -- and found it just replaced one form of unsatisfying boredom with another. His brother's youthful rebellion came in the form of entering a "world of religious delusions", which Khaled can not comprehend; that particular escape and sense of meaning remain closed to him. In his search for meaning Khaled also tries to turn to writing but finds himself staring at the blank page: "Whiteness seeking the secret of meaning" -- which he can't provide, and can't find for himself.
       Khaled is frustrated by the superficiality of the lives of everyone around him, and the masks they wear, preventing any deeper mutual understanding. Even suicides are treated as little more than incidents, with what might have been behind them remaining unexplored. As Khaled understands:
All of us are like that: we and the neighbors, and the neighbors relatives. We offer smiles and polite language only to outsiders, while we insult and hit each other. Talking about politics is banned because the walls have ears.

     Fear ... of everything.
       Khaled is not the only one to feel at sea; indeed, everyone seems unmoored. Typically, after they move from the old neighborhood his father still feels compelled to return regularly, unable to adjust to the change and loss of the old community.
       The transformation of the city (and of the economy in general, with the flooding in of oil-wealth) changes everyone's way of life:
Thus the winds of change swept them away: silence, monotony, and boredom replaced the hustle and bustle and the visits with neighbors and relatives, not just because the new suburbs were so far apart, but because people's lives had changed, not on the inside but on the outside.
       Yet it's an empty change:
     He noticed how Riyadh had become a hive of activity without producing anything real and without the most basic elements of real life.
       As the title has it, despite everything that happens and the rapid modernization of the city and of daily life -- with everyone now able to buy the latest gadgets and appliances, for example --, life itself, in its very essence, remains on hold. Al-Atiq does a fine job of conveying this. Of course, the basic story is a very familiar one: it's a novel we've seen thousands of times before, albeit with a distinctly Saudi spin that allows it to stand out just a bit.
       There are quite a few moments that al-Atiq presents particularly well, too, such as:
     They all grew older, perhaps in a single moment. It wasn't a moment in time, but it left its marks on the wall of the place.
       Khaled's predicament is a universal one, and Life on Hold particularly effective in its balance of that universality and Saudi specifics, making for a novel that remains easy to relate to even as it presents an entirely foreign experience. Yes, it's yet another novel of the modern experience -- but there is enough that is new and different here, in presentation and substance, that makes it worth a closer look.

- M.A.Orthofer, 8 December 2012

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Life on Hold: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Fahd al-Atiq (فهد العتيق) is a Saudi Arabian author.

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