... translator Sawad Hussain has succeeded in bringing this beautiful, affecting novel to an English-reading audience and has captured clearly the emotional, political and aesthetic concerns preoccupying the book ... Right in the center of the book comes a long, unbroken portion of Katkout's novel that deals entirely with Iraq's invasion and annexation of Kuwait in 1990. Alsanousi creates in these chapters a deeply moving portrait of the effects of occupation and war through the eyes of a boy growing up too fast, relying on stories and chosen family to get through the fear, uncertainty and grief ... a rich and resonant book that asks more questions than it (or anyone) can answer ... Alsanousi's book, reflective of his own particular country, culture and sociopolitical context, can serve as both window and mirror to Western readers.
It may be tough to read complex novels in these days of social media platforms and fast food fiction, but Mama Hissa's Mice is worth your time ... Some of this novel's long cast of characters are more memorable than others ... It would be remiss not to speak about the strong treatment of women in this novel, but there's good reason Mama Hissa is its namesake ... Sawad Hussain does an admirable but direct translation of the original Arabic novel. You will hear the lilt of Arabic in her English translation of this war saga, taking place over 42 years and four generations ... The novel is intermittently sarcastically comic and harrowingly tragic. Interspersing past and present, the author shows how the every day, every action reverberates into the future. Thus, this book is both a coming of age novel and a contemporary look at the ongoing violence in the Middle East and Persian Gulf States ... The list and names of characters, the Arabic words, the alternating points of view, and the long phrasing of sentences may make an unmotivated reader close the book. You may feel ungrounded in the juxtaposition of time and place at first. Yet those who persevere will be rewarded with a thorough (though fictionalized) rendition of the history that led to current Middle East politics and violence. This novel should be used in classrooms to educate students about what got the world to this place. The novel has a place on the general reader's bookshelf because of lovable Katkout and his desire to do the right thing despite every reason to do the contrary.
... readers unfamiliar with the history of Kuwait and its meld of Arab traditions will be trying to untangle the many untranslated words and phrases that the characters use. On one hand, these integrations strengthen the authenticity of this world; on the other, they interrupt the flow. Translator Sawad Hussain must have made tough decisions while bringing Mama Hissa’s Mice into English, but not all of those decisions work ... Nor do Alsanousi’s. The near-future fight to regain freedom from forces determined to eradicate it is complicated enough. To combine it with a novel-within-a-novel diminishes the urgency of both stories. But that doesn’t mean this isn’t a book worth readers’ time. Those who persevere will discover beautiful writing about the Arab world that includes Mama Hissa’s fables ... As a character to be culturally translated, Mama Hissa will challenge readers. She loves her boys, yet she is a creature of her context whose principal insult is to call someone who offends her, including her grandson, a 'Jew'...Is her continued use of the word meant to unbalance our perceptions of Mama Hissa? Her behavior raises more questions than it answers, as does the rest of the novel, which leaves readers hungry for even more insight into a country and culture rarely considered in Western literature.
Alsanousi peppers a grim historical narrative of Kuwait with generous doses of warmth doled out by the lively Mama Hissa, Katkout’s grandmother. Although the story is overambitious in its reach, a cast of colorful characters winningly delivers the sights and smells of Kuwait.
Readers who aren’t already familiar with Kuwaiti history and culture might have trouble following some of these events. Alsanousi can be engaging, and many of his descriptions are vivid. But the movement of the novel feels stilted. The narrative jolts from one timeline to another, but neither one of them has a steady momentum. It’s unfortunate, too, that neither Fahd nor Sadiq emerges as a fully formed character. That Fahd loves music is as close as we get to his inner state. Sadiq is a mystery. As for Katkout, it’s unclear why he spends most of his narrative describing Fahd’s family (but not Fahd himself) rather than his own. There are moving scenes between Katkout and Mama Hissa, but these don’t make up for the rest of the novel’s sprawl ... Uneven prose and flat characters detract from this novel’s many ambitions.
Katkout’s memories, nostalgic and sometimes funny even while recalling the horror of the invasion, contrast sharply with the somewhat frenzied present-day account of the chaos produced by the sectarian conflict and amplified by Katkout’s desperate and dangerous search when his friends go missing ... Unfortunately, the social disorder experienced by the main characters is mirrored in the plot, complicating an already complex story, and uneven pacing detracts from the novel’s exploration into whether friendships can overcome generations of religious and ethnic differences. No match for Alsanousi’s well-received debut.