In her latest novel “Blind Sinbad: Atlas of the Sea and War”, the Kuwaiti novelist Bothayna Al-Essa focuses on a family story that forms the central and symbolic theme at the same time. The novel raises questions about memory, roots, and identity within society in the wake of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
Through the Gulf War and later events, the novel gradually approaches the story of Nadia, a wife and mother who dreams of writing her first novel. “When I turn forty, I will write a novel,” she says. Although Nadia leaves the novel early after she dies in a family accident, her presence remains central throughout the book.
In Nadia’s circle, we get to know the husband, Nawaf; their daughter, Manayer; and a family friend, Amer. They appear first on the seashore, where the waves, sand, and clear sky crown the tenderness of this family gathering. But a reckless and cruel accident follows, also beside the sea, and causes radical changes in the characters’ fates.
From this tragedy, Al-Essa weaves a narrative world that raises questions about friendship and love, doubt and certainty, blindness and insight. The narrative extends from the war in 1990s up to the Covid-19 pandemic, which appears in the novel as an extension of the years of invasion, war and isolation with all its grudges.