Les Meilleures Intentions Du Monde (The Best Intentions In The World) by Gabriel Malika, is a novel about Dubai; its lure, its energy, its contradictions, its worship of the over-the-top and its callowness towards the down and out, all of it wrapped in a ruling family’s own version of how a modern Emirati state should function. Les Meilleures Intentions Du Monde falls in the genre of the city as the hero or heroine of the novel and it is fitting that Dubai, the aspirant jewel in the Gulf’s crown, should finally be able to claim one as its own.
The book unravels as a series of stories told to the narrator by seven people whom fate has decreed should find themselves the participants of a grand Arab cruise around the Strait of Hormuz, the purpose of which is to garner further acclaim and money for a self-made Emirati businessman, builder of malls and mastermind of the cruise.
Early in the book, it becomes apparent that something has gone terribly wrong on this cruise (we do not find out what happened until the end), and in the backdrop of this yet unexplained tragedy, the characters choose to tell their story to the narrator, who finds himself also on the ship by virtue of being the official photographer. What binds these characters together is not simply the coincidence of their being literally on the same boat, a temporary fate after all.
Of American, French, Iranian, Lebanese, Pakistani and Saudi Arabian extraction, the thread that binds them is Dubai, the city that became their sanctuary away from the circumstances of their earlier lives. Their stories are different, but they all discover in Dubai the possibility of reinventing themselves. Dubai, the rescuer of the jetsam and flotsam of the human condition; but for the brave only.
Malika, who has lived in Dubai for several years, has unpeeled the gilded surface of the city to unravel layers the average tourist is unlikely to experience; the construction workers for whom no regard is spared in terms of safety or decent living standards, the East European call girls for whom Dubai is a magnet in their quest for a ticket to wherever, the convoluted dating rituals that well born Arab women have honed to escape the supervision of their male guardians. Which brings us to the women in the stories.
Malika is passionate about women, or at least a certain idea of the feminine mystique. Which is perhaps why each individual story is also a love story. Malika’s women are mysterious – maybe too mysterious, but that perhaps is a function of Malika’s occidentalism coming face to face with the Muslim woman circa 2011. Yet, despite their innate mysteriousness and seeming fragility, Malika’s women are pretty hard-nosed; taking what they want and throwing away the rest. In this book, it is the men who are left broken hearted; the women pull the strings and when it comes to choosing between the inconveniences of true love and the comforts of an arranged marriage, love is tossed away as easily as toffee wrapping.
The book, which will be translated into English shortly, is an easy read (hopefully the translation will do it justice) and brings with it a take on the often unseen layers that underpin the social mores in the Muslim world, one that is none the less insightful for it being of Occidental persuasion.
For Aurora readers, a point of interest is that Gabriel Malika is the pen name of Olivier Auroy (full disclosure: he also contributes to Aurora), presently the MD of Fitch Middle East (part of the WPP owned global branding and design consultancy). In his earlier incarnation he was Executive Client Director at Landor Associates (another WPP owned branding and design consultancy), which is what first brought him to Pakistan in 2006 to work on the makeover of PIA. Unfortunately, none of that consultancy work saw the light of day. Auroy is the winner of several advertising awards including a Bronze Lion at Cannes in the retail category. His book should be an inspiration to everyone in our industry to push their talent envelope further and explore other avenues of creativity.
Les Meilleures Intentions Du Monde
By Gabriel Malika
Editions Intervalles 300pp. $48.84
Available at Amazon.com