The Teeth of the Comb & Other Stories
Unless he has been incarcerated or deported by the current US administration, Osama Alomar is working as a taxi driver in New York. Before moving to the US as a refugee, he was an acclaimed author in Syria, especially as a practitioner of al-qisa al-qasira jiddan (very short short stories). The two collections of his that we have in English translation place him somewhere in a rough triangle apexed by the fables of Aesop, the personification tales of Hans Christian Andersen and theRubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (albeit an ‘Omar Khayyam’ arising from a world of state-sponsored torture and media-fuelled anti-Arab prejudice). These micro-fables, few longer than a few sentences, rail against injustice, are socially and politically most acute at the point where they are seemingly most ludicrous, and acknowledge despair without being without hope. A man climbs out of a narrow metal tunnel to find himself emerging from the gun barrel now pointed at his chest, a rubbish bag becomes swollen with pride at finding itself at the top of the heap of rubbish bags, a man finds a question mark in his eye when looking in the mirror. The stories often have an aphoristic feel, and are fables in that they do not intimate any further story lying beyond them (compared, for instance, with Sarah Manguso’s 500 Arguments, which are like the nuggets sieved out of novels).
Personified animals (snakes, wolves, sheep), natural things (a swamp, a lake, a rainbow, trees), mankind's creations (trucks, swords, zeroes) are all characters in The Teeth of the Comb. They aspire, they plot, they hope, they destroy, they fail, they love. These wonderful small stories animate new realities and make us see our reality anew. Reading Alomar's sly moral fables and sharp political allegories, the reader always sits up a little straighter, and a little wiser. Here is the title story: Some of the teeth of the comb were envious of the class differences that exist between humans. They strived desperately to increase their height, and, when they succeeded, began to look with disdain on their colleagues below. After a little while the comb's owner felt a desire to comb his hair. But when he found the comb in this state he threw it in the garbage.
Osama Alomar was born in Damascus, Syria in 1968 and now lives in Chicago. A poet, short-story writer, and musician, Alomar is the author of three collections of short stories and a volume of poetry. He is a regular contributor to various newspapers and journals within the Arab world. C. J. Collins is a librarian and a translator based in Queens, NY.