Original title: Dernière oasis
The novel begins in the middle of the Iraqi desert, where a Lebanese expert in Oriental archaeology is invited by one General Ghadban to examine various ancient finds that have come into his possession in circumstances that he prefers not to specify. But in this northern oasis occupied by soldiers, it is not difficult to guess that they are likely to be the spoils of war.
Having completed a thesis in Art history focusing on the aesthetics of ruins, the narrator has rapidly forged himself a reputation and worked with some of the biggest museums in the world. Nothing seemed to indicate that he would end up specialising in evaluating hidden, smuggled and stolen artifacts, but the reason is simple: the delicious frisson of the forbidden. He appeases his conscience by reflecting that sometimes pieces have been saved and returned to their legitimate owners thanks to his intervention.
Time seems to have stopped in this oasis. General Ghadban is late in showing up and his soldiers, though polite, are hardly communicative. The narrator strikes up a friendship with the guardian to the former cooperative where the troops have set up their quarters, as well as with the priests from the neighbouring Syriac orphanage. He spends his days meditating on the chaos of the world, the vanity of men and the splendour of the site. And when the general’s daughter Chirine appears, the waiting becomes more pleasant still. But this is the early summer of 2014 on the eve of a massive unleashing of violence in Iraq. This region, occupied by General Ghadban’s unconventional troops and surrounded by Kurdish forces to the east and Islamic State jihadists to the north and west, is in the vanguard of major upheavals – the serene beauty of the landscape evokes nothing so much as the calm before the storm.
Full of treasures destined to be lost forever amid unstoppable revolutions in the status quo, Charif Majdalani serves up an adventure novel that is both thrilling and contemplative, setting the absurd quarrels of humans against the backdrop of the overwhelming power of art and the immutable indifference of nature.
- Shortlisted for the Prix Femina 2021 and for the Prix Joseph Kessel
- Longlisted for the Prix de la littérature arabe 2021 and the Prix André Malraux 2021