I’m not sure why, but I was expecting Homeless Rats by Ahmed Fagih to be a children’s book. Maybe because in my experience, books that include the perspective of animals are most often children’s books. This one isn’t though.
Judging by the paucity of reviews on Goodreads, it seems like Homeless Rats hasn’t gotten much attention in English, which is a shame because I think it merits a lot more.
Homeless Rats tells the story of a group of Bedouins who have arrived in a new area in search of food. Their harvest has failed for several years and they have almost run out of food by the time they reach their destination. However, they find themselves in conflict with the resident jerboa population in their search for food. (Jerboas are rodents, but they aren’t rats. The title is a bit misleading.)
What I really enjoyed about Homeless Rats was the way it told the story from the perspective of both the humans and the animals without taking either side. Both groups are just doing what they have to in order to survive. It’s a great tale of environmental conflict.
I think it’s also intended to represent human conflict, but I could never quite place who the humans and the jerboas were intended to represent in that context. Colonizers and colonized? Maybe, but it doesn’t seem quite right. Nomads and settled populations? Again, I’m not quite sure.
According to the ArabLit (In English) blog, a focus on animals is a common feature in Libyan literature. The post I linked to above actually lists three Arabic novels about rats. But Homeless Rats wasn’t included because it is about jerboas, not rats!
I didn’t actually look up jerboas until after I had finished the book. I wonder if my loyalties might have shifted slightly if I had known that they were this cute: