The Hidden Light of Objects by Mai Al-Nakib is a collection of ten short stories mostly set in the Middle East. Many of the stories have a strong connection to Kuwait in one way or another. Most of the stories are also reflecting on the politics in the world, like Israeli Palestine conflict, the invasion of Kuwait, or the war in Iraq. The stories are however not about the political situation, but about people and their everyday lives during the time of these conflicts and wars. There are apparently some autobiographical elements in several of the stories, but in general this is a work of fiction.
The author had a strong desire to write about the country of her childhood and youth. She was born in Kuwait, but spent her first years abroad, before returning to Kuwait. I think this gives her a nice touch to understanding of looking at her own country as both an insider and an outsider. Granted, she was young while living abroad, but she went on living a more international life than most of her peers due to her upbringing.
Maybe the most powerful of the stories in my opinion is the story of Amerika. She got her name in the honor of the U.S. liberating Kuwait. However, later on the hostility towards the West, especially the U.S. grew, which meant that carrying the name “Amerika” is not as easy as it used to be. Things change fast in our world at times. The good becomes the evil. The evil might suddenly not be as bad as was expected. Giving a child a special name can be a challenge for the child growing up. However, it is not possible to foresee everything in life.
It is interesting to read about people and life in Kuwait. I mostly just know about the invasion, and oil. The invasion obviously has its part in the book, but it is not taking over the book, and there is so much room to breathe. I can now compare one book to books all over the world, and war, conflict, as well as genocide are subjects in so may books. I am happy to see that The Hidden Light of Objects is a lot more than just the one thing everybody knows about the country. Although it is an important part of history it is in the past, and there is so much more to life. The book is about ordinary people living their ordinary lives in a world that is never ordinary. The subjects of growing up, marriage, middle age… no matter where you are these subjects are universal.
“In quiet crevices, life is born over and over again, without witness, without recognition. It happens, feverishly or serenely, fast or slow, and the guardians or propriety remain laughably ignorant.”