« « The Scalpel » of Kamal Riahi ; women’s bottoms unveil the socie

Fatma Abdallah

Translated by : Feyza Boudabbous

Our minds ooze while we read « the scalpel » novel of the novelist Kamal Riahi in its third edition with Dar Al Saqi. The novel ,which won the « Golden Alcomar » prize in its first edition in 2006, brings the perverts from obscurity to light. Its writer is a subversive, shatterer, and shocking man. He tears the society apart with the sharp tool which he calls a scalpel without preparing the reader to his/her corpse burial ceremony.


Kamal Riahi’s scalpel is the criticism, and the book is nothing but a resonant slap on the face of the deaf arab society, its land is like the elderly’s feet ; rough and moldering. It is as if the writer were inviting us to descend from our heights. He recognizes his literary lost identity without wasting lines in lamenting and mourning that painful loss : « when will you become mine ? when will you become you story ?

Riahi doesn’t write a novel that its characters are binded by a well-knit narrative reltaion. He rather writes to satirize the social and political structure’s hideousness embedded in the so-called arab human’s personality who is ranged to be the  most sophisticated among other creatures. He writes to stir every stagnant thing in us, the conventional habits, the customs, the taboos, our religious creeds, the hell which is waiting for us and which is nonexistant out of our shabby thinking. It is high time to have a voice, opposing the « yes of the donkey » that Nietzsche talked about before being considered a fool and going astray. It is time for literature to recognize the red devils for they exist on the crossroads.

 With a writer like Kamal Riahi there is no middle-ground, he cuts until bleeding sucking his victims like vampires. He invents out of our fears unreal characters, if compared with the expressions we internalized by habit and upbringing.  What we learnt at school is not enough to form a knowledge of the earth, surrounding, and soil, and the microscopic creatures there. Sometimes we have to walk on four limbs, at some other times we have to crawl perhaps we know the wisdom behind the snakes’s poison and the moral behind the ant’s creeping looking for the winter’s larder food.

the kind of the heros of the writer are those who are born from the mind rather than the womb, from those enzymes produced by the mind instead of the sperm. The most unconventional character was that of the « Makhakh » which he generated from a copulation between a man and a mule, a monster with the features of an ugly  bird with the head of a goofy mule. He preys on licking the human minds especially those of children. We are all « Makhakhoun » resembling monsters in our gruesomness, crawling after beauty like the useless worms in order to vanquish the « Makhakh » lurking inside. Once we are naked we choose the hidden and dark corners to veil the reality of our ever distorted selves. Since the first genes and since the first man we sleep like the « Makhakh », we interact like the « Makhakh » and we spit the other like him too. Yet we refuse our minds’ feebelness and we convince ourselves that all these are legendary creatures vanished from history since the appearance of philosophy. But what about the arab leader, the eternal lover of the chair ? isn’t that a symbol of « Makhakh » which licks the audience’s minds and stretches his tongue out to lick the last drop of consciousness and intelligence? What about 934737_10151658002159874_1885832161_nreligious men ? Aren’t they « Makhakhoun »secretly and advocates of slaughtering that miraculous being publicly ?

The charachters of the book revolve around an unkown man chasing women on his motorcycle and cutting their bottoms with a scalpel to spread panic in the city. Everything spinning around in the dramatic and structural space of this pervert character is infected by perversion too : the streets which are torn by the restoration procedures ; Inb Khaldoun statue planted amid the havoc like a fake witness on the creation of ugliness after being clad with dust and his beard being invaded by lice  restricting his breathing ; the birds which commit a collective suicide ; The new morality police that springs in the heart of the promiscuous city chasing lovers in the public gardens and in the cemetries ;  The silly faces after revolution and the whore who is about to retire moaning under the burden of the large homeland’s defeats asking the ruined revolutionists : « where are we to sleep tonight ? ». Out of this narrative combination spring the characters searching for the secret of crime to narrate ,without considering writing a profession nor a hobby, Khadija ‘s biography.

 khadija is not a lover, nor a wife nor is she a mistress with whom to spend some time. It is an euphemism for the woman’s behind ! this crazy who invented the « makhakh » to subvert us makes of Khadija’s name ,loaded with symbolism in an islamic society, a name for bottoms ! writers beautify reality but this Tunisian unveils its truth ; a distorted one. The radical islamist reality is great at giving Fatàwà which permit cutting the bottoms of women ,who were considered to go astray in the islamic land, because cutting the buttocks of one « whore » will be rewarded by one hundred good deeds on the day of judgement.

While Kamal Riahi grits his teeth before the tumors, others  carry on their ways smiling foolishly. In front of the charred corpses the candy’s taste turns into gall and drinking toasts falls into barbarity. Then , if arising the laughter is one of the writer’s roles, shall the arabic government assume the responsibility of substituting for resigned clowns from work?المشرط

The text is full of male authority before being emptied from its exaggerated significance by the writer. The language is laden with embedded sexual connotations of that unstirring kind. The writer is assiduously careful not to be a « makhakh » licking the remainder of our minds by refining those symbols which are open to interpretation repeating : « sometimes I wish I were less intelligent so I wouldn’t be that miserable with this consciousness ». His choice of the women’s bottoms as an incarnation of the arab society’s flaw is a kind of madness coupled with discernment . «  it seems to me that all the secrets of creatures are in their bottoms. In that place all the private stories gather. And it seems, God knows, that the bigger  the bottom is the more one’s secrets are »

 Between the covers of this book we face the ugliness of  the human self in a so schizophrenic and hypochrite society of ambivalent standards that reasonable people find themselves as if they were illegitimately copulating with a monkey.

« Annahar » journal : « The Scalpel » of Kamel Riahi ; women’s bottoms unveil the society’s flaw.


A propos kamelriahi

KAMEL RIAHI Kamel riahi: tunisian novelist and journalist , born in 1974. He works as a cultural correspondent for prominent universal broadcasting including; newspapers, televisions and news agencies. He worked as the head of translation department at Arab Higher Institute for Translation in Algeria .In 2010, he returned to Tunisia where he joined the ministry of culture and took charge of the cultural panel in important spaces in the Tunisian’s capital. In 2007, got the “Golden Alcomar” prize to the best novel named “the scalpel” in Tunisia.In 2009 he was the only winner in “the Beirut 39” literary contest organized by high festival foundation to choose only 39 best arab novelists .One of the best five writers under the age of forty selected to participate in “the Bouker’s competition for two rounds. He issued a set of literary and monetary books such as; “Gulls memory” , “Stole my face” , “the scalpel” , “the gorilla” , “the movement of narrative fiction and it’s climate” and “thus spoke Philippe lejeune” and “the novel writing of wasiney al aaradj”.Some of his works have been translated into French,English,Italian,Hebrew and Portuguese languages.
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