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A single take through western Sydney

The Tribe, by Michael Mohammed Ahmad. In this novella, Ahmad brings detailed family relationships to life within a minority Shi’ite Lebanese community in western Sydney. He does so from the perspective of a young boy at varying ages (between 7 and 11). I gained insight into kinship, tradition, and cultural identity through the curious character, Bani. At times, the language of the narrator did not seem match the excess of the content: the huge Arab wedding and dance scenes, scents and smells, the lead up to a fight, women’s and men’s bodies and clothes, illness and love of family. But maybe this disjunction indicates the difficulty of being socialised within ‘the tribe’ and looking out into other cultures, even other Arab traditions in Australia. The book conveyed a tight range of affects. It did not crack open it’s ‘show not tell’ techniques, so loved in writing courses. Rather, the whole thing unfolded like a single take (the Russian Ark) in film, as we see cousins and aunties and uncles and the suburban houses come and go in the present tense. Sometimes I got the feeling the youngster was overwhelmed by his tribe and confused by his role in it, and then there were times when Ahmad was a little heavy handed by concluding elements.

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