Sulaiman Addonia’s The Consequences of Love was an interesting addition to my bookshelf. I heard a discussion on a podcast where his second novel was being recommended and decided to check reviews online. I searched for one book (Silence is My Mother Tongue) and ended up getting another (The Consequences of Love). The Consequences of Love is a romance novel at the heart of it, and while I rarely read that genre of fictional works, the setting was a pointer that this would not be just a romantic tale between two lovestruck persons.
Naser arrived in Saudi Arabia as a teen with his younger brother Ibrahim. They arrived via Sudan where they had been smuggled by Sudanese traders in a bid to escape the war in their home country Eritrea. Missing the love of his mother was was the biggest influence of his life, daily living remains bleak and mundane as he longs to love and be loved. A seemingly ordinary longing as love is forbidden in the strict claustrophobic Wahhabism of Saudi state rule. Men oppress other men and women are nothing but objects of control in the display of inhumane religious power. With all of these in the background, a Middle Eastern Romeo and Juliet tale play out. Even within the artificial walls that the Saudi state erects, Naser finds a way to chase and satisfy his desire for affection. It starts with a crumpled note dropped at his feet while sitting under a tree, that causes him to chase after a pair of pink shoes round the dusty and hot streets of Jeddah. A pair of distinct shoes that mark out his love interest from all the uniformly veiled women in the country.
The Consequences of Love is a triumph of love over the hypocritical barricades that the Saudi state erect in a bid to objectify women. It is not just a love story (which it primarily is) but also a tragic commentary of the Saudi state in the late twentieth century. The hypocrisy is institutionalised and breeds sexual abuse at all levels. Despite it all, Naser and his lover, Fiore, persist and their desire for each other finds cracks through the hypocritical walls that the hypocrites of religion and state power have built. As formulaic as the main plot is, the book highlights the point that a human emotion as simple as falling in love is not as simple in some societies as it is in others.
While the primary love story is decent enough, the story suffers in the early stages with a haphazard flow between present events and flashbacks. It swings between Naser’s time in Eritrea, his time in the refugee camp in Sudan and his early days in Saudi Arabia devoid a coherent structure. Another setback is that there a lot of redundant characters that add very little to the storyline. At least half a dozen of them could have been edited out without any impact to the main story and in fact, the plot would have been more concise in the process.
In all, The Consequences of Love is a decent offering and highlights the plight of migrants in Saudi Arabia. The second class status pervades every aspect of their daily living- from love life to trade and even assurance of human rights. While romance fiction might not be my preferred choice but this work of romance fiction has much more going for it than just the triumphant love story of Naser and Fiore.