Only the Shadow Remains

01 October 2013

ABOUT THE STORY Although fiction is a very worldly form, it is probably more sympathetic than the world is to idealists. In this story by the Kuwaiti writer Laila al-Uthman, the child protagonist’s deformity—everyone calls him “One-eye”—seems to result in a corresponding single-mindedness of vision, untouched by doubt or irony.

Our instinctive response when we see a character in fiction as earnest, indeed gullible, as Muhaysin, is to pity him, as we pity  the inflexiblity of Don Quixote, Coriolanus, or Eklavya. But such characters also make us feel slightly embarrassed because they are willing to give up so much for the sake of their ideals or their duties, and yet their reward for being better people than us seems to be to live in a more dangerous world. Their vulnerability results from the fact that it is we, not they, who are two-faced. “I can see. That’s what matters,” Muhaysin keeps insisting when people call him “One-eye”. But he seems to see a different reality from those around him, and there appears to be not room enough in the world for both these visions of life to co-exist. The more powerful force wins, and, in al-Uthman’s trenchant phrase, only the shadow of the other remains.

Only The Shadow Remains

Laila Al-Uthman has published 14 short story collections and nine novels. Her work has been translated into French, Spanish, Yugoslavian, Polish, Russian, German and Albanian. The Arab Writers Union named her second novel, Wasmiyya Comes out of the Sea (1988), among the best 100 Arabic novels of all time. In 2004, Al-Othman established the Laila Al-Othman Award for Young Creative Talent in Fiction, which seeks to encourage young Kuwaiti writers.

Keywords: fiction short story Kuwait Arab literature