Review: The Diesel

Posted by on Jul 3, 2012
Review: The Diesel


“I’ve been here since I was born,” the narrator tells us in the opening lines of Thani Al-Suwaidi’s The Diesel, and yet the slim novella is nothing if not a tale of journey. Written in the United Arab Emirates in the early 1990s (but judged too shocking to print there), The Diesel was first published in Beirut and is now available, in an English translation, from upstart Austin-based publisher ANTIBOOKCLUB. The book follows the narrator’s own interior journey, which plays out in the space of story rather than geography, from a young boy in an Emirati fishing town to a transgender singer and insurrectionist. Through a series of densely symbolic and, at times, cryptic episodes adapted from traditional folklore, the character who comes to be known as the Diesel finds his voice, one that would beguile all those who heard it. “I had never wanted anything else besides this while I searched for it,” the Diesel reflects, “and here I was returning to find it, even though it had eluded me for a long time.”

The text also reverberates with other voices: the muezzin’s call to prayer (the townsfolk irreverently wish he would contract pneumonia), and the sermons of the imam. Indeed, the Diesel traces the awakening of his gender identity back to a sexual encounter with an older male cleric, an encounter that translator William Hutchins glosses, not entirely persuasively, as a rape. Regardless, rebellion against religious authority and rejection of its hypocrisy are central themes of The Diesel, and last month’s riots in Tunisia reminds us just how incendiary art that takes this theme can be. Yet while the Diesel poetically observes that “civil unrest acts like blood’s tobacco,” his song carries with it no particular political platform: it calls, instead, for the proliferation of pleasures and the free play of imagination.

Still, The Diesel resists an uncritically celebratory reading as a narrative of queer liberation, if only because Thani Al-Suwaidi has described the novella as an allegory for the petroleum age. The first tanker full of Emirati oil left Abu Dhabi fifty years ago tomorrow, and the resulting revenues have made Al-Suwaidi’s homeland a wealthy nation in his lifetime. Yet the development initiatives championed by Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan also changed the social fabric of rural life in the Emirates, and The Diesel lyrically represents this unseen force with liquid images of squid ink and seawater. “For a long time we have been waiting,” one man tells the narrator, “for you to anoint our heads and immediately bless us, spreading over our bodies as if you were skin that hasn’t yet adhered to flesh.” Reading The Diesel with an eye for energy tempers the sensuality of this image, renders it ambivalent. A lover’s embrace becomes a stinking oil slick.

Embodying both the medieval figure of the mukhannath and the contradictions of petromodernity, the Diesel is one of the most intriguing characters to grapple with questions of gender, sexuality, and belonging since Jess Goldberg, the protagonist of Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues. Thani Al-Suwaidi’s highly stylized prose makes for slow going, at first, but the book rewards multiple readings and ANTIBOOKCLUB is to be commended for commissioning its translation. Through dreams, proverbs, and flights of fabulation, The Diesel offers a meditation on what’s lost and what’s gained as we “reach deep under the dirt and kiss the dark water there at the height of the roots.” It succeeds, not as polemic, but as provocation.

Note: The translated text uses masculine pronouns and honorifics to refer to the Diesel, and I have adopted this usage in my review.

35 Comments

  1. Dayane
    August 5, 2012

    highly interesting many thanks, there’s no doubt that your trusty followers may want even more reviews like this carry on the excellent work.http://www.busquemail.com.br

  2. Walter Pettett
    September 11, 2012

    I’m really impressed together with your writing abilities and also with the format in your weblog. Is that this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself? Anyway keep up the nice quality writing, it’s uncommon to peer a great weblog like this one these days..

  3. Francie Riippi
    September 17, 2012

    very interesting, Thank you for the article

  4. buying groups
    September 21, 2012

    You’re truly a good webmaster. The site loading pace is amazing. It seems that you are doing any unique trick. Also, The contents are masterwork. you’ve performed a great job on this subject!

  5. Kayla Gutt
    October 6, 2012

    You really make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this matter to be really something which I think I would never understand. It seems too complex and extremely broad for me. I’m looking forward for your next post, I’ll try to get the hang of it!

  6. Jacqueline
    October 25, 2012

    This really wowed..

  7. meet a latina
    October 27, 2012

    No way thank you for all your info

  8. Eugenio Pucio
    October 28, 2012

    绉併亴鑻ャ亱銇c仧銇ㄣ亶銆佺銇潪甯搞伀銇撱伄銈广儩銉笺儎銇澊銈掓剾銇椼€併仢銈屻亴銇с亗銈嬨€併仺绉併伅銇欍伖銇︺伄銈广儩銉笺儐銈c兗銇汉銆呫伀褰笺倰灏庡叆銆?a href=”http://asicsonlinejp.com/” title=”銈偡銉冦偗銈?>銈偡銉冦偗銈?/a>銆両 really like him

  9. Erin
    October 29, 2012

    This is a really good read for me. Must agree that you are one of the coolest bloggers. Thanks for posting this useful information. This was just what I was on looking for. I’ll come back to this blog for sure!

  10. jordan pas cher
    October 30, 2012

    Thanks for any other wonderful post. Where else may anyone get that kind of info in such an ideal approach of writing? I have a presentation subsequent week, and I’m on the search for such information.

  11. Annercarp
    November 4, 2012

    Хочу заказать рекламу у вас, куда писать?

  12. lampy dla dzieci
    November 5, 2012

    I was recommended this website by my cousin. I am not sure whether this post is written by him as nobody else know such detailed about my difficulty. You’re amazing! Thanks!

  13. buy Phen375
    November 6, 2012

    I discovered your blog web site on google and check just a few of your early posts. Continue to maintain up the superb operate. I just extra up your RSS feed to my MSN Information Reader. In search of forward to studying more from you later on!

  14. gucci handmade medium shoulder bag in nude
    November 8, 2012

    Thanks for the great Post very COOL!!! You may need the information on this site http://www.hotguccioutlet.com/

  15. viagrakopen
    November 20, 2012

    Nice blog you have over here! Just wanna say thanks for that and keep up the great work!

  16. Jonie Brindel
    November 25, 2012

    Great work! This is the type of information that should be shared around the web. Shame on Google for not positioning this post higher! Come on over and visit my website . Thanks =)

  17. Andy Okon
    December 13, 2012

    you are my intake , I have few blogs and occasionally run out from to brand : (.

  18. Anna
    December 27, 2012

    Subsequently, after spending many hours on the internet at last We’ve uncovered an individual that definitely does know what they are discussing many thanks a great deal wonderful post

  19. the customer is always right
    December 29, 2012

    Thanks , I’ve recently been searching for information approximately this topic for a while and yours is the best I’ve came upon so far. But, what concerning the bottom line? Are you sure concerning the supply?|What i don’t understood is in truth how you’re no longer actually much more smartly-preferred than you might be now. You’re so intelligent.

  20. Jordan Canslor
    January 1, 2013

    Sorry. Kat-r-i-na, not Katirna. oops

  21. Norris Eppley
    January 1, 2013

    very nice publish, i actually love this website, keep on it

  22. Gregory Raleigh
    January 4, 2013

    I’m very impressed along with your writing talents and also with the format on your blog.

  23. Chris Mebane
    January 7, 2013

    It is a fantastic tip particularly to the people new to the blogosphere. Short but really accurate info. I appreciate you for posting this one. A must read post!

  24. Frederick Dameron
    January 8, 2013

    Amazing tips.. I will follow your Rss from now.

  25. Stay at home mom jobs
    January 9, 2013

    I am exceptionally impressed together with your writing skills as well as with the layout on your website. Is this a paid subject or did you customize it your self? Anyway stay up the outstanding top quality writing, it truly is uncommon to find out a great blog site like this 1 currently…

  26. Monte Callaro
    January 11, 2013

    I’m not that much of a internet reader to be honest but your blogs really nice, keep it up! I’ll go ahead and bookmark your website to come back later. All the best

  27. Karen Harris
    January 11, 2013

    I´m part of a group of volunteers that is starting up a new scheme in our community in San Diego. One of the community projects that we are about to start relatates to your blog, and therefor some of the information here is of value for us and I just wanted so say thank you for that.

  28. nugget sayur
    January 12, 2013

    artikelnya sangat informatif sekali..terimaksih banyak

  29. a games of thrones
    January 16, 2013

    Thanks for your article. It is unfortunate that over the last several years, the travel industry has had to deal with terrorism, SARS, tsunamis, bird flu, swine flu, and the first ever entire global tough economy. Through it all the industry has proven to be powerful, resilient plus dynamic, locating new methods to deal with trouble. There are always fresh problems and opportunity to which the industry must once more adapt and react.

  30. Rick
    January 17, 2013

    Really decent stuff that I, for the most part, like. Planning to suggest to my circle of friends.

  31. nike lebron 10 pas chere
    January 19, 2013

    You are a very intelligent person!

  32. free tumblr themes
    January 20, 2013

    I am extremely impressed with your writing skills as well as with the layout on your weblog. Is this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself? Anyway keep up the nice quality writing, it’s rare to see a nice blog like this one today..

  33. Emmanuel Mrowka
    January 25, 2013

    I do believe all of the ideas you have presented in your post. They are really convincing and can definitely work. Nonetheless, the posts are very quick for beginners. Could you please prolong them a bit from next time? Thanks for the post.

  34. David Guetta Interview
    February 16, 2013

    I such as the important data you give in the articles.I’ll bookmark your blog page and check once again here often.I’m somewhat certainly I’ll be taught a good deal of latest things precise here! Superior luck to the following!

  35. italexpress
    February 16, 2013

    I similar to the beneficial data you present inside your articles or blog posts.I’ll bookmark your site and test once more below routinely.I am quite totally sure I will gain knowledge of considerably of new stuff appropriate the following! Really good luck for your subsequent!