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The Fetishists

The Fetishists

This epic novel of Tuareg culture in the Saharan Desert is considered the greatest work of Ibrahim al-Koni, one of the most prolific and important writers in Arabic today.

Series: CMES Modern Middle East Literatures in Translation

Center for Middle Eastern Studies, UT Austin
November 2018
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568 pages | 6 x 9 |

The Fetishists, originally published in Arabic as Al Majus, is considered the masterpiece of Ibrahim al-Koni, one of the most prolific and important writers in Arabic today. In The Fetishists, Al-Koni explores what happens when a writer asks the novel to speak of and for the Sahara, when rival cultures clash, and when communities seek to build a utopia on Earth as individuals struggle between a desire for material well-being (represented by gold dust) and a need for spiritual meaning. As the story opens, Sultan Oragh of Timbuktu, who has already lost most of his power to Fetishist Bambara leaders of the forestlands, fears he will lose his only daughter, Tenere, as a human sacrifice to their god Amnay. The sultan sends Tenere to seek refuge with fellow Tuareg nomads in the plain. But even in their traditional, nomadic community, a competition rages between jihadi militant Islam; moderate Anhi Islam, which is the ancient Tuareg Law; and the cults of gold dust and of traditional African folk religions.

In this epic novel, Al-Koni blends Tuareg folklore and history with intense, fond descriptions of daily life in the desert, creating a mirror for life anywhere. Through its tragic rendering of a clash between the Tuareg and traditional African civilizations, the novel profoundly probes the contradictions of the human soul as it takes the reader on a unique spiritual adventure inside the Tuareg world.

  • Volume One
    • Part I
      • 1. The Qibli Wind
      • 2. The Sufi Shaykh
      • 3. The Messenger
      • 4. The Errant Twin
      • 5. The Bird of Paradise
      • 6. The Apostates
      • 7. Waw
      • 8. The Jackals
      • 9. The Promised Event
      • 10. The Vision
      • 11. The Dervish
    • Part II
      • 1. The Nipple of the Earth
      • 2. The Gold Bracelet
      • 3. Terrestrial and Celestial Waw
  • Volume Two
    • Part III
      • 1. The Leader
      • 2. The Churn
      • 3. Terrestrial and Celestial Statutes
      • 4. The Serpent
      • 5. Thirst’s Secret
      • 6. The Wager
      • 7. The Vessel
      • 8. The Veil
      • 9. Amghar
      • 10. The Elegies
      • 11. Destiny
    • Part IV
      • 1. The Conspiracy
      • 2. The Diaspora
      • 3. The Shroud
  • Author’s Note
  • Translator’s Note
  • Characters
  • Glossary

Salou, Spain

Al-Koni is an award-winning Libyan writer and one of the most prolific Arabic novelists. He has published more than eighty books, which have been translated into thirty-five languages. In 2015, Al-Koni was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize.

Boone, North Carolina

Hutchins is a professor at Appalachian State University. He won the American Literary Translators Association National Prose Translation Award in 2015 for Ibrahim al-Koni’s novel New Waw.


“Unlike most of what we classify as world literature, Mr. al-Koni offers no concessions to the Anglophone reader—nothing in his vast story is explained or contextualized. It gives one the feeling of having been dropped into the middle of the Sahara with a canteen and a compass. This is daunting but exciting, and the persevering reader will begin to discern the secret desert language that the nomads have long mastered, a speech made of wind and stillness.”
Wall Street Journal

“[The Fetishists] is a grand epic, rooted in an impressively evoked otherworldly locale -- a sense intensified all the more so because much of the tension in the novel arises from the pull between the otherworldly (spiritual) and the worldly (and specifically commercial). Al-Koni does not make it easy for the readers, but there's method and justification to his drawn-out and slowly unfolding elaboration -- and for all its length The Fetishists is never boring. This is a strange but, yes, magnificent novel, and certainly worthwhile.”
The Complete Review

“Imagine a book of more than 500 pages where plot and character don t matter, a giant multi-room museum piece that asks to be read in stages and puzzled over. Ibrahim al-Koni s epic novel "Al-Majus" – newly available in English translation as "The Fetishists" – is just such a read.”

“[A] monumental work…Al-Koni has a tremendous gift for description and his poetic prose, dazzlingly translated by William Hutchins, is mesmerising…Al-Koni has certainly succeeded in writing a magnificent Tuareg epic in The Fetishists, and one that a reader is likely to return to again and again.”


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This book may also be available on the following library platforms; check with your local library:
3M Cloud Library/bibliotheca