This is a meditation on identity.
Or perhaps it’s a meditation on finding your identity. Whichever, it is a meditative experience. Omar Sakr’s other published works are poetry. Son Of Sin is his first novel and his prose reflects his poetic style.
For example, this is a description of a sunset:
“…the sun was losing its purchase in the sky, and the spools of lavender and pink, orange and red, visibly changed with each passing moment; to see time was to sink into it, in the act of noticing.”
Jamal is at the centre of this novel and we get to know him both realistically and in abstract terms. We meet him as a teenager in the age of My Space where he observes the dynamics of his family, never really feeling part of what is happening around him, as ethnic families often have truths never based on facts.
“…what lay ahead of him was more of the same cutting comments, the staggered and warped back and forth of people who don’t know how to talk to each other without trying to win, to force the other to concede.”
He is also bisexual, and while this is only explored in several scenes, the alienation he feels hiding his sexuality is felt all the way through this superb novel. It is this silent aspect which places his lack of identity in perspective.
There is no plot driving this story.
I’ve often stopped reading a book if there’s an absence of story, but I found Son Of Sin a page turner. Perhaps as a gay man myself, I clearly recognise that feeling where ‘fitting in’ is natural for everyone but you. Like you were born on an alien planet where family members recognise what you are and find their own ways of discouraging you.
Jamal meets his father for the first time halfway through the book.
His dad lives in Turkey, hasn’t made anything of himself yet imparts his own brand of wisdom on Jamal. And while Jamal is now an adult, he is still drifting. Shame continues to haunt him, even as this trip was meant to put his past in perspective.
This is a novel of precise observation and sublime use of language, and has become a favourite of mine. One message I took away, and I’m paraphrasing here, is the idea that our identity is linked to memory, and memory fades.