The Ardent Swarm | Yamen Manai | Book Review

The Ardent Swarm by Yamen Manai
PLOT: 4/5

“According to elders – and in the kingdom of Qafar, the words of the elders were truth itself – the reason this little desert dump had staggering quantities of underground butane was the combination of its people’s natural aptitude for farting and the Spartan customs that compelled them to sit ass down on sand. To the point that, to avoid insulting the conservatives, the first king, Abdul Ban Ania, progressive on certain matters, declared: “There is enough gas underground that we may begin to sit on chairs” (Manal 6).

–        Yamen Manai, The Ardent Swarm

Darkly humorous, distinctly witty, and terribly sarcastic, The Ardent Swarm is a fictional novel translated from French by Lara Vergnaud. In this novel, Yamen Manai weaves a tale of awe and thrill against the backdrop of the socio-political upheavals and transition in a region that has been synonymous with instability and unpredictability in its public policies.

Though no names are named, the fictitious resemblances to places, people, and events are a recurrent thought in the mind of an active reader.

Manai showcases the accuracy of a keen-though-objective-observer which is enmeshed with the passion of a poet, both of which are hard to douse. These give rise to a fiery text that is full of twists and turns and strangely relatable to events in the contemporary global scenario.

This aspect of being based on real-life events sparks a fresh debate on the issues of the region that is the larger Middle East and North Africa as it remains strangely important for not only regional but also global economic and strategic reasons.

The Ardent Swarm Yamen Manai Review

The Ardent Swarm opens with a quotation about the significance of the bee from the Quran, the prologue introduces the reader to a tiny, oil-and-natural-gas-rich monarchy named the Kingdom of Qafar. With the exploitation of its natural gas and oil resources, this tiny kingdom has burgeoned into a key international player in global politics and its ruler’s greed does not seem satiated.

This image is immediately contrasted with the simple and humble character of Sidi as the first chapter unfolds. The plot moves to the fictional North African village of Nawa where Sidi lives with his girls. Sidi is a beekeeper by profession and he looks after his beehive with utmost care.  He is a bit of a recluse and lives a hermetic life.

Later, there occurs a certain incident – the attack on his beehive and its inhabitants by a group of hornets that came along with an imported cargo. This leads to the destruction of Sidi’s beehives and makes Sidi venture out of his comfort zone from the remote part of the village into the central locales of the village and beyond. This is not an easy choice for him to make but he is forced to do so in order to undo this loss and find a viable solution to sustain his bee-hiving activities.

Little does he know that he is about to discover a greater world that is very different from his usual reclusive life and is a whole new discovery of contemporary global events that seamlessly combines ecocriticism, contemporary geopolitics, and religious fanaticism to create an absolute page-turner that is full of suspense and excitement to leave readers in awe about an author who is observant, reflective, and highly aware of the world within and the world without.

This is the point that makes Sidi realize there is a world outside of his known domain in which crucial events like the first democratic elections are about to take place. Yet a counter force is at play in the form of the Party of God whose actions indirectly affected the beehives of Sidi.

This turns Sidi into a self-proclaimed savior as he shoulders the responsibility of saving his bees from further destruction when he goes out to find books to educate himself about saving bees. It is also a fact that he has to take responsibility if he wants his profession to survive.

The Ardent Swarm by Yamen Manai Book Review

All of the incidents in the plot can be read dually – at a literal and a symbolic level. In this sense, the book can be considered allegorical or metaphorical of colonization, globalization, and post-modernism.

Alongside run themes like political and moral corruption, apathy, greed, and a deep-seated, overall human hollowness. This ties up the entire world in a chain of interconnectedness that has been amplified by globalization and its after-effects. So, any incident in one part of the world has global repercussions.

While it is hard to say that the text is specifically pointing towards any particular incidents or events but the uncanny resemblance to the Tunisian revolutions that led to the Arab Spring is undeniable.

The seamless blend of simple yet complex writing style against a backdrop of turmoil does not in any way reduce the character of Sidi to a speck. Rather, it enhances his simplicity to showcase a world of terror, angst, and haphazardness.

The language is rich and has an imagistic bent which increases the symbolic significance of the incidents of an otherwise lyrical prose. This allows for multiple interpretations that amplify the relatability of the plot.

At a little over 200 pages, The Ardent Swarm is a moderately short read that is intellectually stimulating as it simplifies many aspects of the contemporary world with awe-inspiring ease under the tag of being a tale of pure fiction.

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