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Mohamed El Bisatie: Drumbeat
It’s not that often that one can find a novel with an innovative idea, let alone find one in a simple and attractive style too. Drumbeat can be the exception; it’s a perfect blend of originality and imagination.
Drumbeat takes place in a fictional Emirate in the UAE during the national team’s World Cup-qualifying match in France. The ruling Emir orders all nationals to travel on state expenses to cheer for the champions in France, leaving the country empty and in the hands of imported labourers.
Multilingual workers, servants and even police officers start to wonder what they will do with their newfound freedom, as they enjoy wandering freely on the empty streets, driving their masters’ fancy cars and living like they own everything.
The story starts to take shape when the narrator meets Zahiya, an Egyptian who works as a 'companion' in a nearby palace. From her recounting of her life behind walls, the reader gets to see the other side of these workers’ lives in the Gulf, the secrets and the hardships that they face but can’t speak of or they’ll be sent back home.
The novel is not set to motivate or inspire; it’s a story as a story should be: a sheer telling of fictional events. The plot unfolds in such a gripping and compelling way that the reader will become intrigued and desperate to know what will happen next. Fortunately, it’s not a long book; so you’ll find out soon enough.
What adds to Drumbeat’s charm is the author’s attention to the little details; so much so that the reader feels the scene and can almost see it.
What separates it from perfection, though, is that it sometimes feels rushed with some plot holes left unfilled. The character of Zahiya may also raise questions as to her authenticity: to some, the character may seem forced and awfully exaggerated, especially considering what she had to do and hide to keep a job.
It may have some flaws; but that doesn’t compare to how realistic the story’s events are. Drumbeat is one of those novels that pull you in; a simple and fast read with riveting characters and a storyline that won’t leave your hands until it’s finished.
The structure of the book is difficult to map out. While the story is chronological in the bigger sense, events tend to jump back and forth, where each child slave’s full story is only revealed the further you read. We do not know exactly how either of them came to be until to the end.
Other distractions from the story line are religious references. Using Biblical references, verses from the Quran and the history of Moses and Adam, Thompson uses mythical tales to reflect on the characters at hand and the trials they face. He even has a character and element that bears an uncanny representation of Noah and his arc.
Apart from his use of history and religious fables, Thompson also tells a very aggressive, and often times, dark story. Dodola is married off as a child and upon turning to prostitution is subjected to rape and mistreatment. Zam is a slave who sacrifices his manhood out of a loss of a better life. They are both abused time and time again and having their misfortunes sketched out for the eye to witness adds a shocking element to the novel.
This brings us to what makes the novel so wonderful at the same time; the illustrations. The detailing of the sketches and the exemplary hand-work at play is extremely commendable. Action scenes have your eyes rushing through the pages as frantically as one seen on a TV screen. The beauty in the details is endless; the graphics are looming and grand but also sensual and precise. There is a lot of calligraphy incorporated, which makes for an interesting experience for those who can read Arabic.
Another interesting aspect is his combination of the new and the old. Though the story takes place in today’s world, a lot of the prevalent ideologies are from nomadic times; primitive and beastly.
There is indeed something quite poetic about the story he tells – and the manner in which it is told – regardless of the gruesome, harsh aspects; on the contrary, it is these parts that make the novel that much more meaningful.
The first impression of main character Abby, a freshman at university, is that she’s a goody-two-shoes and seems to have a reserved, shy personality. She is just starting a new independent life as a student far away from home, but her peace of mind is soon disturbed when she meets Travis; an underground fighter who goes to the same school. He's the kind of guy that every girl should avoid but still dreams of taming. With tattooed arms, the rebellious enigma captures Abby's attention instantly and though he has trouble written all over him, she can't help but get sucked into his world.
But on the other hand, Travis is also somewhat spellbound by Abby's innocence. What he doesn't know, and neither do we at the time, is that he’s in for a surprise; with a sharp tongue and a strong personality, Abby manages to charm the bad boy into submission. As the story progresses, we see Abby building a shield to protect herself from being another challenge that Travis conquers. Frustrated with Abby, Travis is forced to comply with her strict rules and settles for being ‘her friend’.
The novel takes an unusual turn when Abby loses a bet with Travis and is forced to live with him for a whole month. The lines between innocent friendship and love become blurred and as the story goes on, McGuire gradually delves deeper into Abby's fears and the dark past that is still hunting her.
Jumping up the New York Times bestselling charts soon after being published, Beautiful Disaster is much more than a just another romance novel.