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ISSN 1409-6900 | UDK 82+7     Blesok no. 49 | volume IX | July-August, 2006



                     Peer-reviewed journal
Blesok no. 49July-August, 2006

The Perfumes of Palms

– excerpt from a longer essay –

p. 1
James Kirkup

(Tarek Eltayeb's Villes sans palmiers, translated by Paul Henri, L'Esprit des Peninsules, Paris 1999).

Tarek Eltayeb

In this totally realistic and presumably partly autobiographical work, we find the “hero” leaving home on the back of an open truck driving across the desert to Omdurman. He arrives covered in dust, which turns to a thick mud when he attempts to wash his face and hair.
    Tarek Eltayeb is a young novelist born in Cairo of Sudanese parents. His story starts at home in a village lost in the wastes of famine-stricken Sudan. It tells of the gradual struggle for personal freedom of an innocent village boy and his experiences in the school of life that make of him a man of the wider world, a wandering exile who cannot forget his home. The narrator, who has only his youth and strength to recommend him, arrives starving and with very little money in the capital Khartoum. He is taken on by a gang of criminals who siphon petrol from car tanks at night to “remedy poor government distribution”. Then he tries in vain to find work in the huge fruit and vegetable market. He breaks into the stores after dark and steals quantities of spices that he sells on the streets, until he is noticed by a shopkeeper who engages him for a paltry wage and a bed in the store. The storekeeper has three wives, and our hero and the neglected second wife, who – like the others – has not borne the boss any children, start a clandestine love affair in the store after hours. It is the boy's first experience of sexual love, and it irradiates the poverty of his daily life. But when the woman becomes pregnant, to the joy of the boss who reinstates her in his bed, she no longer has any interest in her lover. Broken-hearted, he escapes on a slow train to Wadi Halfa, where he sails down the Nile to the Aswan Dam. There he boards a train that takes fifteen hours to reach Cairo.
    Totally at a loss in that city, he falls in with a joyous gang of youths who initiate him into the mysteries of the Khan al-Khalili bazaar and the delights of a kebab and kofta restaurant. Then they all take an air-conditioned bus to Port Said, where in the huge duty-free zone he learns to buy cheap clothes and other goods to

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