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: Italy loses WWII and leaves Byderhabad to the British Empire.
Part II: Kingdom of Byderhabad, 1945.
Father Bernard Holmes has just crossed into Byderhabad border when his old car sputtered and died, stranding him in the desert. The priest was on his way to the train station with all of his belongings to start his new post in Farwah. Dawid, now 18, found him. Somehow between then and now, he learned English.
“I can take you to the train station.”
“What about my things?”
“Do you want your life or do you want your things?”
Once Dawid drops him off, Father Bernard asks if he could pay Dawid for his help. Dawid says he is getting paid with all the things Father left behind. Later, Dawid brings all this stuff Bernard’s possession back to Farwah to fence…
…to the Egyptian Merchant who now lives in Farwah with his new wife Behar. Yep. Lydia’s mom! *Dunn Dunn duuuunnnn!* “Oh, Sheikh Shahbaz’s kid is still alive? And he was the Desert Demon’s crew? How interesting…” she said. Hmmm…indeed!
Meanwhile, Father Bernard has tea with Lt. Colonel Charles Clifford who is in charge of the military here in Byderhabad. Crawford wants to send soldiers out to get Father’s stuff back and possibly arrest whoever that is that “helped” him. Father dismisses all of that. Much later that evening, Dawid ninja’ed into the priest’s room to return the cross because “crosses seem important to Christians.” Impressed by this, Father mentions that he should stay in town and get an education to better himself. Dawid says I belong to the desert and you can’t hold me down, and noped out of the priest’s window. As he was making his way out of the church compound, Crawford catches him.
Halfway pulling a Les Miserable on Dawid here, Father Bernard thanks Clifford for catching his native helper who was sneaking out again. Tsk, tsk, tsk. Dawid remains quiet
“Clifford, I think Dawid could use some discipline and a little education than I can provide.”
“Oh, what a coincident, Father! Since we’re about to start the local military academy.* We’d be happy to have him.”
“Excellent! I’ll take Dawid there to register tomorrow.”
Cue boot camp training montage with Sudanese drill instructor! Extra training for Private Dawid you know because Clifford sees the diamond in the rough that needs extra polishing sort of thing, but mostly, he wants to tame him a bit. Meanwhile, Mustafa pillages, rapes, and murders his way across the desert. Why do you need to know? We’re not done with this asshole just yet! And back in Farwah, Behar talks the Egyptian Merchant into opening a western-style nightclub.
* Note: As I was checking with Brandon on how to translate military stuff, it occurred to me how this author both romanticized the colonization in the drama part but also criticizing it in the political talk. Like the “military academy is more of conscription, really. As I said, I didn’t translate the political conversations here but I did read it. It’s all about the role of leadership and duty to the country, what they must do to keep as much of its culture and identity to live to fight another day. King Fahad bends to whatever the ruler is but subvert their control where he can, hence sending Faisal to England while under Italian rule. You’ll see more of this as we go.