From The Trpoli Post (25-31 Aug. 2007)

Book Review by Ghazi Gheblawi of A novel by Salih Senoussi entitled: Halaq Al Reeh
This is the story of social evolution, it tells us how we came to be what we are now, and why we face the world the way we do. It is the story of Halaq Al Reeh, which can be literally translated as ‘The Wind Valley’, and the people who dwell this mythical land.
Salih Senoussi is A Libyan writer. He lived and studied during the 1980’s in Paris where he started writing his novels in Arabic. He works as a professor of political and economic studies in Libya. ‘Halaq Al Reeh’ is his latest work of fiction.
The narrator starts by telling us how a man named Suleiman Al Araj returned to the valley and its people, who had been waiting for him for more than 200 years. He is the last great grandson of the late leader and ruler of the valley, Abugilla Al Araj conqueror of the Turks and Christians.
The whole novel adopts a poetic and romantic style of language that has been used to write traditional pre-and post-Islamic books in general, especially biographical books.‘Halaq Al Reeh’ has four major legends. They are, the legend of Abugilla Al Araj, the legend of Qamar Murad, the legend of Suleiman Al Araj, and the legend of Sidi Al Kouni Budomat.
It begins with the battles of Abugila Al Araj against the Turkish rule to preserve the independence of his land and people.
After winning all his wars he was approached by the people of the sea city who were invaded by the Spanish. After he defeats the Spanish and enters the sea city, the Turks capture him and send him to exile. They impose a hefty tax on the people of the valley, which they have to pay twice a year.
But before Abugilla leaves for his exile he tells his people that there would come a time when a man of his linage would appear to the people of Al Reeh, to bring them glory and pride.
The second legend is ‘Qamar Murad’ which starts by telling us the story of Murad, her father, who comes to the valley from the sea city claiming that he is the man the valley, is waiting for. His true identity is revealed, and he is punished and left to shepherd the valley’s sheep. He is also forced to marry a black slave.
Qamar grows to be the beauty of the valley; she becomes the fantasy of all the men of the valley. She recites poetry and invites men to come and listen to her, or listen to the stories of bravery, an image adopted from the Arabian nights.
But things don’t go too well, as two of the distinguished youths of the valley, one the son of the Sheikh (leader) of the Reehs of the west side and the other the son of the Sheikh of the east side. Each wants his son to marry the beauty of beauties. Things get nasty and the signs of war loom. At the end the two young rivals end up killing each other, but war is avoided through the religious authority of the valley’s clerk who uses the power of the guardian saint (Walli) of the valley, Sidi Al Kouni Budomat.
But war did eventually come, not for a woman or land, it came 100 years after the death of Qamar, between the east and west sides of the valley. According to the folk tale it started after an easterner killed a dog belonging to a westerner after it bit his camel’s leg. In return, the owner killed the easterner and returned his body strapped to the dead dog on the same camel. A 50 years war erupted. Nothing seemed to end it.
Then one day, Suleiman Al Araj, the long anticipated hero, reached the valley and the war was ended, with Suleiman becoming the leader of the valley.
A year of his return he declared war against the Turks and with his valley men prevails in all his battles, announcing the establishment of the principality of Halaq Al Reeh, spreading his authority to the edges of the sea city, which through one of its famous merchants, Hamed Ben Zayghoun, proposes to Suleiman, to free the city from the Turkish rule, giving him in return the title of the prince of Al Reeh and sea city.
After a long and costly war that claimed the lives of his two beautiful wives, the sea city becomes the Capital of his newly born kingdom. Despite all the opposition, he signs a defence treaty with the English navy to protect him from the Turkish battleships.
Suleiman evolves from a tribal leader to a king full of authority through divine or totalitarian powers and distances himself from his people.
At the age of 100 he falls ill after discovering his wife sleeping with a young handsome English soldier. He soon dies and Hamed Ben Zayghoun, his deputy, claims the throne and begins by erasing every detail about the existence of Suleiman Al Araj, and his people.
In time Ben Zayghoun starts to write a new history of the region omitting any mention of ‘Halaq Al Reeh’ and ‘Al Araj’. He claimed that all these were just legends and myths that never existed. He decides to punish anybody who claims any other history except that Ben Zayghoun has written.
Salih Senoussi tells the story in all its details but in a very condensed style and a magical language using the traditions and customs of the coastal tribes of North Africa that although he lived for centuries beside the sea, never swam or ate from it.
A novel of a legend that spans 250 years, realising at the end that time is not important and place is not important either. What’s important is people and what they believe in. Where legends become faith, and illusions become religion.
* Salih Senoussi other novels:
(When will the valley floods?) 1980
(Horses will visit us tomorrow) 1987
(A meeting on the old bridge) 1992
(The life of the last of Beni Helal) 1999