Best Translated Book Award 2011
Soad’s father epitomized the greedy, power-hungry bourgeoisie who reigned over the city like a pack of jackals ripping into a carcass. He restricted his associations to his own kind–but only the more servile among them, people he could lord it over and put down as he pleased. He was insolent, disdainful–even with the governor. Soad, powerless and mortified, had listened for years as her father cut people down with the precision of an executioner.
Each of these books stand alone, but when you read both, you realize you’re reading the same book. Yet,
The Jokers presents all characters in their own foolish light whereas the characters in The Splendid Conspiracy are more developed and drawn out. Not to say that The Jokers is not a quick, interesting read with its moments of humor, it is. But there are similarities between the two that begin to undermine his style. There is the repetition of a character with myopia which is
either a thinly veiled attempt at personifying a character weakness or a
preoccupation of the author. Also, in both books there is pubescent girl(Felfel in The Splendid Conspiracy and Soad in The Jokers) that serves the role of seductress to one of the men. For
Karim silently rejoiced. Games of love like this made him happy. Whether they were seven or seventy, women always fell for the same tricks. Age didn’t matter: you seduced them all the same way.
Although these aren’t major problems, they do point to the fact that as far as the development of a writer, Cossery doesn’t want to move beyond the political court jester role by employing used characters and character traits. He merely writes the same book, albeit well, twice. He is a good writer and I would need to read more to determine whether he grows beyond these themes or simply explores them through different storylines. Like Alyson Waters who translated The Splendid Conspiracy , Anna Moschovakis does a nice job with capturing the irony and the wit of The Jokers. Albert Cossery was a talented writer who skewered the ideas of upper class and political oppression with a light touch and a discerning eye, but as with any joke, the more you hear it, the less funny it is.