6. A book written in the Middle East: The Teeth of the Comb & Other Stories by Osama Alomar
List Progress: 25/25!!!
So for a random find on the library shelf, this ended up being a pretty pleasant read, but if I’m being honest about what drew my eye to 2017’s The Teeth of the Comb & Other Stories by Osama Alomar, it’s that it was short and I wanted to finish my reading list. But “short” would turn out to be a more central idea for this book than I would have thought. Alomar, a Syrian writer, is well-known for working in the “very short story” medium, flash-fiction that is less structured than poetry, and varies (at least in this book) from a few pages, to no more than a single paragraph. At the collection’s bests, this is just enough space to paint a vivid image that speaks volumes beyond the wordcount. At its worsts, the stories become tossed off thoughts that sound like an overworked sermon trying to force a parable.
Originally written in Arabic, The Teeth of the Comb was translated into English by CJ Collins and Osama Alomar himself, which feels like an important aspect when dealing with such concise work that could easily be shifted through word choice. Some of my favorite pieces in this collection are the very, very short ones that are simply one line of set-up, one line of imagery, and one line of conclusion; those are where Alomar really shines. The stories on the longer end of the spectrum can easily overwork their imagery or metaphors, occasionally speaking about big flowery concepts in a way that feels like a parody of overly dramatic poetry. But by their very nature, you don’t have to dwell on the rougher ones for too long and can move on to the next. This book was perfect for reading on the train, where I could snap off a few without feeling like I had to move as slowly as working through poetry.
I don’t know if the ratio of good to bad was enough to send me seeking out more of Alomar’s work, but as a single volume, I’m glad I spent the time on it, and it felt like a solid way to round out 2018. Here’s to a bright new year of reading!
Would I Recommend It: Yes