Just over two years ago I read The Bleeding of the Stone by the Libyan writer Ibrahim al-Koni. I do admit that I read a translation for I do not read nor understand Arabic. And Arabic is the language al-Koni (1948) uses in his writing, eventhough only at the age of 12 did he start learning this language. Before that he was steeped in the language of the Tuareg. In a perfect world I would have used Arabic to understand the writings of al-Koni.

Just a few days ago I read this book on a book. The writer Meinrad Calleja has a M.A. in Arabic, so I assume he will read al-Koni’s work in the original language. This academic essay is however based on an English translation, published in 2002. See it like a study in Arabic on an Arabic translation of Hamlet by William Shakespeare.

According to Calleja the scope of his essay is “to unveil the stark reality that academic literary classification often creates boundaries that discourage liberal reading processes in Arabic”. He takes The Bleeding of the Stone as an example of the tendency to create boundaries while the preferred reading process should be one that is multi-layered and open to more than one interpretation. To him it is necessary to have an open mind and creativity to understand this book, beyond the scope of the literal meaning. Calleja wants to establish the ‘plurality’ and the ‘polyvalence’ of the metaphores al-Koni uses in his work. 

Calleja wants to unveil the academic literary classification (see his scope) but to do so he himself follows the long road through literary concepts and the ideas of European philosophers who have given ample attention to the definition of key words in the literary and philosophical world. At times this is a complicated and burdensome road for it is easy to forget about the scope of this essay and the book that al-Koni wrote. 

The essay has a very clear structure with space for the context of al-Koni himself (who as a nomad travelled widely in Europe) and Arabic literature. A perspective on The Bleeding of the Stone is given. Following that Calleja focusses on the use of metaphor, the way al-Koni uses the desert space and silence. In his final chapter he draws some conclusions.

In his book al-Koni makes the remote space of desert the place were universal themes are played out. In this way the desert is the world and the world is the desert. In the desert the reader finds the world. The importance of the ideas that al-Koni brings forward are not tied to the shifting sands of the desert, but have an universal impact. In his final Conclusion the writer asks this question: “Who is the final arbiter of our reading?” Will the reader decide the content and the accompanying meaning of the delivered text? Even imagining more and different meaning than the writer intended?  It is possible that the writer creates his work of imagination and the reader creates his / her work of imagination. 

 Meinrad Calleja – The philosophy of desert metaphores in Ibrahim al-Koni The Bleeding of the Stone – 2012 Faraxa Publishing – 247 pages (including Bibliography)


The book was given to me by the publisher for review. 

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I enjoy reading about Africa. New books. Old books. By African writers. By non-African writers. Novel. History. Travel. Biographies. Autobiographies. Politics. Colonialism. Poetry.

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