VOICES OF THE LOST HODA BARAKAT
Translated by Marilyn Booth
208pp. Oneworld. Paperback, 12.99 [pounds sterling].
This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Arab Spring uprisings, making the English translation of Voices of the Lost, by the Lebanese author Hoda Barakat, aptly timed. The novel, which won the 2019 International Prize for Arabic Fiction, comprises a series of letters by Arab migrants and exiles whose lives have been disrupted by political upheaval. Offloading their woes on to parents, siblings and estranged lovers, they recount tales of violence, personal turmoil and economic hardship. Each letter is binned or mislaid, and chanced upon by a later narrator; none of them reaches its intended recipient--a very literal metaphor for the disconnection wrought by displacement.
In one letter, a man tells his mother about how he became a sadist. After being brutalized and sexually abused by police thugs, he turned police informant in order to be spared further harm; he then became a torturer himself. Cruelty, he explains, is...