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The Bleeding of Stone–First Impressions

Nature, specifically the Libyan desert ecosystem, is almost more central than the few human figures in this novel.  Al-Koni uses gorgeous imagery to bring it to life on the page.  The main character relates almost exclusively to the land and the animals he herds.  He is a fascinating recluse, however.  Who knew that descriptions of sun, sand, water, caves, mountains, goats and the interactions among them all could be so compelling? 

There’s a lot of emphasis on an ancient species of sheep, the waddan, that were pictured in petroglyphs.  I can’t tell if they really exist in the story, or if they’re extinct and the main character is imagining/hallucinating their presence.  The boundaries between magic and realism are not sharply drawn, which produces intriguing questions about the narrative.

There are also archological treasures–petroglyphs–and I like this novel’s exploration of different groups’ attitudes towards them.  Asouf, the main character, views them with reverence; he seems like a direct spiritual descendent of the pre-Islamic people who created them.  Archeologists and government functionaries occasionally come through to ask about them and “see” them in a superficial, intellectual, way.   And a couple of other characters, obsessed with their own, increasingly sinister agenda, hardly notice the petroglyphs.

An entrancing book.

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