Cardyn Brooks reviews The Watermelon Boys by Ruqaya Izzidien
There is a nuanced complexity in the characters, family dynamics, historical context, and sense of time and geographical location that infuses this author’s writing with a fullness of narrative expectation on which she delivers. The trickle-down and radial effects of colonial imperialist patriarchy are intimately explored from Iraq to Wales to Australia and the Arabian Desert. In three distinctive parts, a postscript, and author’s note, The Watermelon Boys explores the intricate connections between international, national, regional, municipal, and neighborhood identity politics.
According to an omniscient narrator, “This time it will be different.” [Page 1] is the hope of every human generation despite all evidence to the contrary provided by even the most cursory study of history. And yet that hope for a different, better future is reborn with each new child. Rebirth motifs flow throughout The Watermelon Boys: an initially unidentified man rises out of the mud as a symbol of primordial ooze, and characters seem to get baptized in blood and water. Ultimately, none of these renewals changes the essential drive of humans to conquer each other.
Change the continent, the country, religion, ethnicity, gender, age or century, but strip humans down to their core and find the same warmongers in every century. Events in The Watermelon Boys occur from 1910 to 1920 and also feel relevant to present-day geopolitical discourse about the Middle East, workers’ rights, gender parity, immigration issues, and the fallout of colonial imperialist ambitions presented as liberation strategies.
Global experiences of “bad paper” betrayals of oppressed indigenous people by outside foreign invaders are included in references to the contradictions in the Sykes-Picot Agreement versus the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence, how negotiations with British colonists turned out for the original North Americans, and in this passage on page 213:
As though statehood was as simple as drawing lines on a map, and as though slapping a title on three different peoples—who had different words, ethnicities, and customs from one another would solve all of Britain’s problems.
That echoes this earlier passage on page 139, “They think they get to decide who deserves to belong, and they’re not even from here!…”
And beneath all the layers of flimsy and entrenched rationalizations for man’s inhumanity against man lies the persistence of sexism and misogyny as found on page 57, “…This is what women have always done, but we don’t write the history books. We rebuild countries, but the stories always end at the victory, so the men, they never talk of our fight.”
As a beautifully rendered panoramic study of some of World War I’s secondary theaters of war, The Watermelon Boys makes a compelling argument for the intellectual stimulation and artistic range offered when authors from marginalized populations write about “mainstream” topics. (The recent Broadway premiere of Young Jean Lee’s “Straight White Men” comes to mind.) Ruqaya Izzidien portrays every character, every situation, and each decision crossroads with deft touches of compassion and vulnerability that amplify the intensity in the scenes of cruelty and terror. There are no saints here.
The Watermelon Boys by Ruqaya Izzidien was published by Hoopoe, an imprint of AUC Press on 27 September 2018
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Cardyn Brooks is a reading fiend, compulsive writer, chocoholic, and swim enthusiast. She writes upbeat, diversity-is-mainstream contemporary erotic fiction for and about grown-ups in love. Her previous titles include Seducing the Burks: Five Erotic Tales and Dodging Eros, Through Past, Present and Pleasure. In spring 2018, When She’s on Top, a collection of four novellas about powerful women and the men who are strong enough to love them, written as her edgier persona of C. X Brooks, will be available in print and e-formats from BlackOpalBooks.com. She earned her B.A. in English at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S.A.
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