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A vivid journey back to Old Oman


For her novel “Dilshad: A Biography of Hunger and Satiation”, Omani writer and novelist Bushra Khalfan was shortlisted for the 15th edition of International Prize for Arabic Fiction (Booker 2022) and she won the 8th Katara Prize for Arabic Fiction in Qatar.

The centre of the book is Dilshad, the poor orphan boy who got his share of starvation and poverty just like other people who lived in Muscat and the nearby areas in its warring past. Bushra reflects on a bygone era in Muscat tracing back the hard times the old Omanis faced.

Hunger and Satiation is a look into the economic conditions and an exploration of the fears of the people including those who have enough food but were afraid of the hunger demon that follows the War.

The novel presents a community being deprived not only of food but many other things including family care, happiness, knowledge, travel and many other forms of hunger.

Dilshad fought hunger with loud laughs using it to mask the noise his stomach made. He transmitted his habit to his daughter Maryam. Maryam, inheriting the poverty also fought her own demons using laughter to silence the pain that lived long in her heart. Yet, that pain wasn’t only of hunger. Maryam had a hard time understanding the big gap between starving in Muscat, specifically Al loghan village, and being full living with one of Muscat’s wealthiest families in “Lomah house”.

It was known to host needy girls to be taught tenets of Islam and serve the lady of the house. As Faridah, Maryam’s daughter, she did not know about hunger except in the hardship after the death of her father, who was the Son of Lomah. Therefore, she kept laughing just to keep up with her mother, who knows the meaning of hunger more than she does.

The readers of the book are taken to some of the most vivid pictures of Muscat in the past where everyday living was a struggle. It significantly highlighted and identified the relations between people, dissect their standard of living, and looks at even their language.

Bushra was able to visualise the intermixing of many races in Oman. She made all the characters talk under one single voice despite all the differences between them making them one single community that gathered people who loved and supported each other.

With a wonderful open-ending, Bushra wrote the last words of her novel: “The book of hunger has been completed, followed by the book of satiation, God willing...” Giving her readers creativity and freedom to pursue the ending they wanted.

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