This book was originally published in Arabic in 2009, but it has taken until 2014 for it to be available in English. It won the Arabic Booker Prize in 2010 and if it weren't for this award it would probably never have been translated. The author came to the Dubai Literature Festival this year and took great pains to explain that the book was fiction, based on no particular person, but yet represented the excesses and corruption that were rife in his country.
It was not an easy read. I was shocked by the violence and abuse very early on in the book and would have abandoned it had I not been reading it for a book group. It's not a pleasant book, yet I'm glad I read it for the insights it gave me.
Tariq narrates his story, from a poverty stricken childhood, running and fighting in the back streets of Jeddah, to his job in the Palace that has been built on the waterfront of the village, blocking off their livelihood and recreation. The vast Palace sits in a hugely imposing compound and for most villagers, represents some mysterious unknown. For those who do get to pass its gates, it is not the promised land, rather a debauched centre for excesses, and corruption. Once Tariq begins work there, in 'the punishment squad', there is no way back and he becomes more and more tainted by his work.
The author's aim was to show how extreme wealth and power can corrupt and damage all who come into contact with them. In my opinion he did this successfully and the impact of this book will remain with me for some time.