I wanted to like this collection of short stories more than I did. The cover of Jokes For the Gunmen was eye-catching; the topic interesting, important even. The writing and translation were fine too, but surreal and absurd doesn’t always work for me. And in this case, I was left scratching my head too often to claim this book as a successful reading experience.
All the stories cover the common themes of loss and the effects of war, especially on children. Often the only response to such horrific events is to laugh darkly, which is what Maarouf has done in every story. His gallows humour twists and turns between being absurd, bizarre and just plain weird.
His cities are unnamed but obviously situated in a middle eastern war zone. This allows the reader to place the action wherever they imagine. Personally, I pictured Aleppo in Syria, as this was the place that featured most on the news as I was reading through the various short stories.
My favourite story was the first one, the titular story of the collection. It was also probably the longest. It’s a perfect example of Maarouf’s writing style with cruel twists, bizarre thinking and odd survival techniques.
Your story has to be convincing, enjoyable and very short, and it has to make people laugh. Not like this story, for example.
Favourite or Forget:
- Some of the scenes and situations are unforgettable, but not a favourite in the end.
- I didn’t read the last four stories.
- Mazen Maarouf born in Beirut 1978.
- Longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2019.
- Translated by Jonathan Wright.
- Also reviewed by Meredith @Dolce Belleza.