I’m rereading a Thai novel, “The Sheikh”, originally published in 1987. The story follows the life of Dawid ibn Sharbaz, the only son of a murdered sheikh, through the changing times in the fictional North Africa country of Byderhabad from 1941-1970. Things to note is that while it’s international in scope, it’s written through the lens of a Thai novelist. Also, there is a lot of political commentary and observation in the novel which is the author’s forte but I choose to focus on the drama side of it. Because, well, that’s why I’ve been rereading this book since 1992!
Where we left off: We’re still in 1941. Dawid is chasing this father’s murderers through the desert.
Part I: North African Desert, 1941.
Dawid chases the Italian soldier well into the night. His quarry damn near falls off the camel on his own out of exhaustion when Dawid shoots him in the shoulder. He sends a few more bullets whizzing by the Italian’s head but he doesn’t kill the guy.
Back at the tribe, the sheikh is laid to rest. Dawid tells grandpa he will not live under anyone else’s rules, but vows that one day he will come back to take over and be a great sheikh like his dad. The two of them set off to wander the desert the next morning.
Meanwhile, at the opera house in the fictional capital city of Farwah, King Fahad and westernized younger brother Prince Faisal live it up with the Italian court and military officers. They talk about Mussolini, Hitler, Churchill, politics, politics, war, war. We’re not getting into that but this is the introduction to the Byderhabad royals so I kind of have to. LOL
A LOT of political crap happening in town so we’re skipping those and condensing these chapters. Out in the desert, Dawid and grandpa arrive at a herding tribe. Dawid rescues Lydia, a local girl his age, from bullies. Her mom is an unwed MILF named Behar. Behar says she met Dawid’s father once a long time ago and that Dawid looks just like him. She asks him to tell her more about his dad but he refuses and leaves. (Take that, Mrs. Robinson!) Incensed Behar forbids Lydia from seeing him again, but of course, as Dawid and grandpa are leaving, Lydia sneaks out to give Dawid a red scarf to remember her by.
In Farwah, King Fahad sneaks Prince Faisal out to study in England to subvert the Italian rule which puts him under house arrest when the Italians find out. Hmm…sending a Western-culture obsessed prince to England? What could possibly go wrong there, y’all?
Back to the desert, Dawid and grandpa are stuck in a week-long sandstorm, and eventually rescued and taken in by a band of infamous camel bandits led by the Dread Pirate…um…I mean, the Desert Demon.
Sometime later, the Desert Demon takes Dawid on a night raid and teaches him the way and the thief’s codes: only take the camels and nothing else, don’t touch the women and children, only kill people who fight back, and leave one tent with food and supplies for survivors. Today’s lesson? There really is honor among thieves.
After the raid, the Desert Demon stops at a tribe to sell his stolen camels to the Egyptian Merchant. Bandit Mustafa is caught trying to rape a village girl, so the Demon chops off his hand and banishes him from this crew.
Chapter 10-12 — 1943
2 years have passed. The Desert Demon and his crew stop at Old Goat Herder tribe. (Surprise to no one) Lydia is still here, waiting for Dawid even though her mom has long left for the city. They’re both 15 now so of course, they sleep together. He promises to come back for her and she promises to wait forever. Awww young love.
Back in Farwah, the Italian military has gotten words that the war is over. But before the treaty is signed, their general wants to rid the desert of the bandits once and for all. His officer asks why doesn’t he just leave them for the English to solve. The general wants to leave a legacy for himself–even if he lost the war, he has done some good for the country of which he was put in charge. The man for the job? The Italian Officer That Dawid Shot! His snitch? Mustafa! Now with a hook hand! /maniacal laughter/
The Italian army gun down the whole damn bandit camp but ruh roh the Desert Demon wasn’t home. They interrogate survivors, execute them one by one if they don’t talk. We’re down to the youngest and oldest members of the camp.
“You’re wasting time with that son of sheikh Sharbaz. That bastard won’t talk,” pipes up Mustafa. The Italian Officer takes a closer look.
“Do you remember me, son of sheik Sharbaz?”
The lieutenant takes aim at Dawid’s head. The bullet grazes just above his ears.
Grandpa is in the hospital. And for whatever fucked up reason the Italian Lieutenant murdered him with a pillow. I guess it’s to set Dawid free of obligation so he could fulfill his destiny? Who the hell knows? We never spoke about this again, but anyhoo. Then the Italian goes to tell Dawid in jail that grandpa is recovering (why!??!) and that he’d be let out soon because the Italian army is leaving and the British are coming to take over. He advises Dawid that he should learn everything he can from the British so he can use that knowledge to go get his tribe back and lead his people into the future.
“Why are you doing this?” Dawid asks.
“It’s my penance for getting your dad killed and robbing you of the future you could’ve had if he were alive.”
And that concludes Part I, all under Italian rules. All the drama is coming under the British, y’all. And it will get a bit HEAVY. Stay tuned!