The patient—suffering from an unnamed illness—becomes trapped in a bewildering twilight between life and death. The hospital is a haunted shadow world where memory struggles for a breath of air, where the grotesque facts of the outside country are gone over at leisure. Indignities and past sufferings (long-ago familial deaths, a childhood friend left asleep under a streetlamp, the violent and petty offenses of self-proclaimed criminals) are felt again, perhaps made worse by the removal: the ability to sit and think over events with no further possibility of investigation, action, or intervention ... There is no real story—which might sound like a critique but in fact is a kind of writing that can be just as cogent and enjoyable as the other, more plot-based or emotionally arcing sort, when the bursts of dialogue, bits of mordant wisdom, and small occurrences are done as well as they are done here.
Bouanani’s work has a timeless urgency to it, the kind of timeless frustration that can only come from a specific time and place. And like The Trial or the great Eastern Bloc science-fiction of the 1960s and 70s or other great dystopian novels of the past, the human rage, frustration, and isolation it expresses is equally poignant in past, present, and future.
It would be hard to avoid the word 'Kafkaesque' in describing this dreamlike and symbolic excursion into an institution that represents suffering humanity ... Bouanani plunges the reader into a world of pain, misery, and mystery—a world in which no one leaves the hospital because no one is ever cured .. From the opening sentence—'When I walked through the large iron gate of the hospital, I must have still been alive'—Bouanani introduces a world of confinement and a kind of death in life ... Incongruously, amid the bleakness of the patients’ lives, the hospital has a garden, ancient oaks, and profuse vegetation. Bouanani foregoes conventional narrative structure and instead presents his plot as a series of encounters—some brutish, some tender—between patients. The narrator uses the dreamlike aura of the hospital in a self-conscious way as he wonders for 'the thousandth time' what he’s doing there and questions whether his experience is 'dream or reality'—and he then aptly alludes to his earlier reading of Kafka and Borges ... A puzzling but haunting novel.