From the book jacket:
When an opulent palace is built on the Jeddah waterfront near his poverty-stricken neighbourhood, ambitious Tariq sees a way out of his life of petty crime. He stares longingly at the huge gates, dreaming of the luxuries beyond.
But dream quickly turns into nightmare. The Palace is ruled by an enigmatic Master whose influence in the city is as wide as it is wicked. When Tariq succeeds in being appointed to serve the Master it becomes clear that he has been chosen for a single, terrible task.
Thirty years later, Tariq feels trapped. In between punishing the Master’s enemies through unspeakable acts, falling for Maram, the Master’s beautiful mistress, and resisting his brother’s plea to return home, he realises that he has become no more than a slave–and that there is only one way out.
This novel is by Saudi Arabian writer Abdo Khal. It won the International Prize in Arabic Fiction in 2010 and I’ve been waiting for it to be translated into English ever since I first heard of it.
I can’t say for certain that this is a horror novel. The way it is described by many convinced me in the beginning that it was, but now that I’ve read it, I’m not so sure. Yes, horrific things happen in it, but I’d have to go much more in-depth about the parameters of horror as a genre, first, and how those parameters apply to Arabic fiction, second, to define it with confidence. But horrific things do happen here and people suffer greatly. Sometimes they are victims of others. Often, they are victims of themselves.
If you start looking into this story online, you’ll quickly be told that it is a metaphor for the power of wealth. It is satire. It is that, yes. Tariq is poor, and from a poor neighborhood, and when a friend of his gets him a job at the Palace, he’s happy to go. But the job he’s given is as a Punisher. It’s his job to torture and sodomize (often on video) the enemies of the Master. The Master snaps his fingers and Tariq jumps. He jumps for his entire life. But now, as the autumn of his life approaches, he begins to reflect on the decisions he’s made and the impact they’ve had on those he both does and does not love.
Before you start feeling sympathetic for him, though, I’ll tell you that Tariq is not a good man. This is one of the aspects of the novel I like the most, actually. He’s not one of your cliché “devil-turned-angel” types. He’s a bad man who does bad things. As a youth, he spent time in an alley of his neighborhood known to harbor pedophiles. A young woman he cares about begs him at one point, “Spare me, because I love you.” He does not.
Throwing Sparks offers a lot to think about. The narrator tells us his sins with a clear eye, and lets us witness the prices he pays and his ultimate bid for freedom.
If you’d like to read more about the novel and don’t care about spoilers, here are a couple places to go:
If you’d like to learn more about Arab fiction in general, visit the site of the International Prize in Arabic Fiction. It’s a great site and there are terrific resources there.