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Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Homeless Rats

Homeless Rats - Ahmed Fagih Where this book really shines is as the depiction of a micro-society, the forty of so people of Mizda. My copy says the author is from a village of the same name, though I don't whether he intends an accurate depiction of his homeplace and its people.

The villagers of Mizda, already struggling after a period of drought, come to Jandouba in the hope of harvesting the barley fields in exchange for some of the crop. Arriving on the brink of starvation, they discover the jerboas have already harvested every barley ear in every field. A lot of the book deals with the bitter struggle for insufficient resources between humans and jerboas.

But it's also very much a book about society, culture and history, especially that of the people of Mizda, individually and collectively. They clash with the second group of arrivals from Bir Hakeem over culture and resources. As a counterpoint, the author introduces the social organisation and beliefs of several species of animal.

I think the blurb for the book rather misrepresents the way it ends:

Neither hunger nor marriage succeeds in uniting the two tribes, but when disaster strikes in this little patch of desert it is time for everyone humans, rats, snakes, wolves and insects to unite as one, under the same burning sky.

I really must have blinked and missed that part, although it is true that the situation between the groups of humans evolves somewhat. Perhaps it wouldn't be a total spoiler to say that everyone was united in their desire to avoid said disaster, but that's about it!

The downside to this book is that while its written in acceptable style, it's got a 'tell, don't show' kind of voice and no emotional depth. I had to bring my own knowledge of humans to get up much empathy for the human characters. As for the animals, their part is much less developed than the comments on this book might lead potential readers to imagine.