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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Heads Ripe for Plucking

Mahmoud Al-Wardani

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Title: Heads Ripe for Plucking
Author: Mahmoud Al-Wardani
Genre: Novel
Written: 2002 (Eng. 2008)
Length: 164 pages
Original in: Arabic
Availability: Heads Ripe for Plucking - US
Heads Ripe for Plucking - UK
Heads Ripe for Plucking - Canada
  • Arabic title: أوان القطاف
  • Translated and with an Afterword by Hala Halim

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Our Assessment:

B : fairly well done, but feels a bit forced

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Heads Ripe for Plucking boils down to a set of decapitation stories. It is narrated, after a fashion, by a decapitated head -- a man riding on the top of a train who didn't duck in time and finds ... well, "my wide-eyed head stuck to the iron bridge", where it remains for quite a while until they pry it loose. But, hey:

This was not the first time I had parted with my head; I had parted with it several times before, just as others who preceded me had likewise parted with their heads.
       In three sections of six chapters each Al-Wardani rotates through six different decapitation stories. They range from what translator Hala Halim calls: "the primary beheading in Arabo-Islamic history, that of al-Husayn, Prophet Muhammad's grandson" to an imagined scenario from the future where heads are regularly removed for maintenance every two years (and later reaffixed), to check for any accumulated damage:
The doctors would hack off the head at the throat and send it to the maintenance department, where programs were downloaded and spare parts installed in place of damaged segments.
       Other storylines centre on significant Egyptian events of recent decades, such as the bread riots of 1977.
       This is a rather odd unifying theme, though of course the idea of 'losing one's head' does harbour myriad possibilities -- and Al-Wardani does make good use of some of these. The stories, presented in a variety of voices (in both the first and third person), are well told and quite engaging. They do move somewhat predictably to their inevitable conclusions -- yes: off with his head -- but even here Al-Wardani adds a bit of variety, both with his decapitated-at-the-outset guiding spirit, as well as the futuristic storyline, where the head is taken off and reattached over the course of the story, not merely lopped off at the end (a story which is particularly nicely finished off).
       The different storylines feel somewhat random, but offer several different perspectives on Egyptian life. One in which the protagonist has been working aborad, in a Gulf state, saving money to then reestablish himself back in Egypt (which he is now ready to do), is particularly effective -- in part also because it is told in the first person, the man's disconnect from his family particularly well conveyed, as he has barely seen or been in contact with them (except for the money he regularly sends home) over these years: even as he dreams of the future they'll all share, they've gone on to lead lives separate from his (with very bitter consequences for him at the end). Another story told in the first person, of a student who gets caught up in the Cairo riots, also captures youthful exuberance (and naïveté) very well.
       It is an odd mix, and a bit loosely connected -- though Al-Wardani does well to rotate through the stories (telling a third of each in each section, rather than just presenting one complete story after another) to give the appearance of the strands intertwining more than they actually do. Still, despite his efforts to tie things together, this is a case of the parts -- which are really quite good -- being better than the whole.

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Heads Ripe for Plucking: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Egyptian author Mahmoud Al-Wardani (محمود الورداني) was born in 1950.

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© 2009 the complete review

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