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Darkness in the Desert:Tradition and Transgression in Ibrāhīm al-Kūnī’s Ushb al-Layl

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This paper examines themes of moral transgression in the 1997 novel Ushb al-Layl (Night Grass) by Libyan novelist Ibrāhīm al-Kūnī, particularly as viewed through the novel’s recurrent motif of darkness and blackness. As with all of Ibrāhīm al-Kūnī’s fiction, Ushb al-Layl is set in a traditional Tuareg society in the Sahara. In this case, the protagonist, out of scorn for the rest of his society, violates its customary law and moral codes—preferring darkness to light, committing murder and incest, and defying matrilineal traditions in favor of fathers—all in the name of a higher wisdom and a quest for immortality. Through this character’s monstrous behavior, I argue, Ibrāhīm al-Kūnī implicitly criticizes the tendency of modern ideas to overturn traditions in the name of enlightenment and progress, while leaving a dangerous moral vacuum in their wake.

Affiliations: 1: University of Pennsylvania


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