Chewing Gum was one of the most exciting and best books I’ve read recently. Even though it was short, it was a book that I’ve learned a lot from. More importantly, it made me want to learn more. This book by Mansour Bushnaf, which I read for Libya in Read Around the World project, was banned in Libya. Because of the essays he wrote, he was imprisoned for 12 years along with many other writers and intellectuals during the Gaddafi regime. This fact alone put his book among the must-read list for me.
Tripoli and colourful characters
Chewing Gum tells the story of Tripoli in the 1980s. At that time the city was afflicted with a chewing gum madness. Bushnaf tells the tale of Tripoli, and in fact, the country in general, with colourful characters and a park. He also refers to different periods of the city. For example, the stories of Tripoli under the Ottoman rule and Tripoli under the occupation of Italy are quite different. There is a mysterious woman statue, Turkish pashas with various characters and a love story between all these madness. If you want to learn about Libya, discover an excellent writer and look briefly at a culture you’re not familiar with; you will love this book. Highly recommend!
About the book: Chewing Gum
“Students! Write this down in your notebooks! Chewing is infinite!”
Young Mukhtar is frozen in time. He is gazing at his beloved Fatma as she disappears into the streets of Tripoli, destined to a life of prostitution. Around these young lovers, Bushnaf weaves a compelling network of images: a litter-strewn park, a bewitching Italian statue and a fluttering red scarf. Through these images, imbued with social, historical and existential import, Bushnaf paints a dark portrait of a country in crisis and an individual, alone at the centre of conflicting ideologies, all attempting to explain his existence away.
With its satirical and semi-journalistic style, Chewing Gum is an existential quest to understand how a society exists beneath a repressive dictatorship. The rhythmic act of chewing relentlessly continues as individuals, time and land turn to waste. In this debut novel, no one escapes the critical gaze of a writer who witnessed first-hand the brutality of Gaddafi’s regime. At times downright funny and at times poignantly sad, Chewing Gum depicts the academics, politicians and businessmen of Libya who all claim a monopoly on the truth of the country but who all, inevitably, fail the individual.
About the author: Mansour Bushnaf
Mansour Bushnaf is a Libyan writer. He began his literary career as a playwright and essayist, before writing his debut novel Chewing Gum which was banned in 2008 in Libya. Bushnaf’s essays have appeared in the Al-Hayat, Al-Quds Al-Arabi, Al-Arab and Al-Wasat.