“The 1001 Nights of its time – rooms opening into rooms, stories into stories, in the same literary mansion as Calvino, Burroughs, and other metafabulist satirists: horrifying, funny, written in a language all its own.” - Margaret Atwood
“Ghalib Islam has written one of the buzziest novels of the season.” - Toronto Life
The universe is shaking as Hedayat, the "glossolalist" narrator of Fire in the Unnameable Country is born on a flying carpet in the skies above an obscure land whose leader has manufactured the ability to hear every unspoken utterance of the nation. He records the contents of his citizens' minds onto tape reels for archival storage. Later in Hedayat's young life, as the unnameable country collapses into disarray around him, he begins an epistle, wherein, interspersed with accounts of contemporary terrorist attacks and the outbreak of a mysterious viral epidemic, he invokes the memories of his parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents to revisit the troubled country's history and expose the roots of its crisis.
Hedayat's dark world is entirely foreign but oddly familiar, echoing the banality of our daily diversions and adding a terrifying twist. The Mirror, a gruesome, never-ending reality show, turns the city of La Maga into a permanent Hollywood-style film set where people gamble body parts and live in fear of the Black Organs, the paramilitary manifestation of the eviscerators that threaten to infect the nation. Islam's vibrant, ingenious construction sends the plot twisting down rabbit holes and caterwauling through secret doorways to emerge anywhere from a domestic living room to a bomb technician's workshop to the deep recesses of the state's repressive political apparatus.
An utterly remarkable debut, filled with original characters caught up in wonderfully imaginative circumstances and rendered in uniquely inventive language, Fire in the Unnameable Country is a book like no other.
Heyadat is the child of an unnamed African nation, one perpetually swept by tides of change and calamity. Caught up in yet another tumultuous period, the "glossolalist" narrator spins a discursive history of his family and of La Maga, the troubled city in which the family lives. Told in Heyadat's unique idiolect, the tale focuses in particular on Heyadat's father Mamun Ben Jaloun; a young man in a land subject to the whims of the Americans and their Soviet enemies, he struggles to find his way, shifting mercurially from career to career, criminal and singer, urchin and orderly and finally a guardian in the archive of thought tapes used to monitor the very minds of La Maga's citizenry. Related in colorful neologisms and eschewing simple linear narrative structures, the work paints a vivid picture of a community victim to great forces outside any person's control, of a nation where the powerful can fall from grace at any moment and the weak must make terrible compromises to buy a morsel of security for their loved ones. While the language may prove a barrier for some, this is a debut novel that rewards effort. Agent: John Pearce, Westwood Creative Artists