Motorbikes and Camels

Fiction - Cultural
280 Pages
Reviewed on 10/22/2018
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Author Biography

Nejoud Al-Yagout is the founder of Co-Exist Kuwait, an initiative to bridge divides in her country where-as she poignantly states, "there are mosques in every corner, only a handful of churches, and nothing else." By introducing topics considered uncomfortable in a region steeped in dogma, she finds a way to raise awareness of intolerance and bigotry via her writing. Motorbikes and Camels is her debut novel. She is also a published poet and essayist. Her poems and articles have been featured in Tikkun, Best Self Magazine, Carte Blanche, Women's Spiritual Poetry, The Master Shift, Thought Catalog, Arab Times, The Divan, Kuwait Times, Al Rai, Get Out Blog and Global Chatter Magazine.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Maria Beltran for Readers' Favorite

Motorbikes and Camels by Nejoud Al-Yagout is a revealing piece of literary fiction set in Kuwait, in the Middle East, a rich and modern country located in a region that's known for its sharp inclination to religious dogma. In this book, we are introduced to various male and female characters chafing under the extraordinary strains of their culture and what family and community expect from them. We get to know Salma, a privileged young woman who finds herself in an unhappy and empty marriage. Khaled, a clumsy young man, falls in love with Saadia, a beautiful girl that lives on the wrong side of the city. We also get to know couples Bader and Maha, and Aisha and Hussam. The lives of these characters and a host of others sometimes intertwine and they are all part of a community that is both privileged and claustrophobic.

Nejoud Al-Yagout is, without a doubt, a daring and honest writer, and Motorbikes and Camels is a masterpiece. And being a Kuwaiti herself, she brings to life a number of interesting characters that may seem extraordinary to outsiders, but are real and palpable in the world they inhabit. What makes this novel extraordinary is that it brings to the literary table a unique voice that is seldom heard. With topics like homosexuality, virginity, double standards, discrimination and other difficult truths, in the midst of a dogma known for its intolerance, Motorbikes and Camels is definitely a thought provoking eye opener. And as author Al-Yagout relates each of these stories and intricately weaves them together, she reveals not only the innermost feelings of her characters but the soul of the community itself!

Joel R. Dennstedt

I had the great pleasure and privilege of reading and reviewing Nejoud Al-Yagout’s collection of intensely perceptive and inspiring articles: Arise Here, Now. Recognizing at that time a literary marvel of a writer, I was most pleased and eager to read her new fictional work: Motorbikes and Camels. My original assessment stands: Nejoud Al-Yagout is a marvelous and perceptive writer. One of her most artful skills is to write extremely clean, concise sentences that reveal much more than the number of words used to create them. This is writing at its best. Not necessarily poetic in style, but certainly poetic in economy in choosing a few specific, perfect words to convey an expanded world of meaning. This is done with such a lack of self consciousness as to make the reader wonder how he knows so much from apparently so little said. Using this technique with masterful skill, Al-Yagout puts you firmly in the mind of one flimsy teenage girl, inside the head of one shallow privileged man, and makes you realize the issues they deal with are neither flimsy nor shallow.

There are additional characters, relationships, and issues featured in Nejoud Al-Yagout’s culturally revealing gem, Motorbikes and Camels, interwoven and interlinked and voiced by each character’s own perspective in sequential turn. This lends the viewpoint of a multi-prismed focus to an ancient society’s struggling transition from old to new, from ancestrally scripted to modern freedom and indulgence. A complex brew of depth, discrepancy, and deeds, written with disarming simplicity by a skilled writer claiming her rightful place of preeminence in an over-burdened, over-populated field.

Karen Walpole

Motorbikes and Camels by Nejoud Al-Yagout explores the tumult of living as a young Muslim in today’s ever-changing and complex world. Al-Yagout writes stories about a series of people and their relationships in order to show the myriad ways modern Muslims are dealing with the clash between old, traditional culture and beliefs and the rise of sexual freedom, openness and acceptance. The conflicts include the issue of homosexuality versus religious beliefs, independent decisions by the young versus obedience to parents, traditional versus modern clothing, and marriage between classes. Influenced by Western culture, some of the characters re-examine religious teachings and customs and come to interpret them in a new way. There are those who continue to embrace the old ways and others who leave most of the traditions behind.

The format of the book is both unusual and interesting. Using a series of people and their relationships and telling their stories was an effective way to encompass this very broad subject. Just as each person is different and each relationship is different, so are the many outcomes of the cultural clashes different. Motorbikes and Camels gives the reader a glimpse into how a particular society deals with the modern world. The wearing of the hijab, the Islamic headscarf, is discussed by various characters, each having a different idea about the custom. The stories about the various characters are recognizable. They demonstrate that people are the same everywhere and that dealing with change is always difficult.

Deborah Lloyd

Motorbikes and Camels provides a window into the everyday lives of Kuwaiti people, greatly affected by cultural and religious expectations. Each chapter reveals the thoughts and actions of a different male or female character, with a focus on love relationships. Some topics explored include the disparate expectations for men and women; a husband’s decision to have more than one wife, or several mistresses; the effects of wearing the hijab, or not; alcohol consumption; homosexuality – the list goes on. The quest for spiritual awakening vs. living within the confines of rigid religious rules is also explored. Author Nejoud Al-Yagout has developed realistic, complex characters in Motorbikes and Camels. While each segment examines another complicated aspect of life in modern-day Kuwait, the characters are connected through an interesting web of relationships.

Motorbikes and Camels is creative and skillfully written. From the first page, the reader will be fascinated by the wide variety of experiences of the characters. The personality of each one is aptly described, and the struggles within each character seem convoluted. Yet, the writing is so clear and concise that these struggles are easily understood by the reader. This begins with the first chapter when Salma tried to live within the moral expectations of her family but became disillusioned after a failed relationship and a failed marriage. This led her to an expansion of her religious beliefs. In Motorbikes and Camels, author Nejoud Al-Yagout presents many poignant, thought-provoking scenarios. This is a wonderful way to understand more about a Middle Eastern culture.