It’s inevitable when writing regular reviews of a publication that a reviewer will find a story that doesn’t resonate with her. “The Darwinist” is one of those stories for me.
Set in 20th century Iraq, the story tells of the birth of Shafiq, a boy with a furry, banana-shaped birthmark and the son of a reviled Darwinist. After leaping back in time to discuss the boy’s father, the story then tells of Shafiq’s adulthood, searching for a banana to give his pregnant wife, and how that search ends in tragedy.
When I say “the story tells,” I do mean tells. “The Darwinist” has a distinctly newspaper-like quality to it as it lays out the events of Shafiq’s life. It maintains a birds-eye view, never taking the time to deeply explore any of the characters or moments it discusses. There’s little dialogue or opportunity to show the story. Instead, it reads like a synopsis of a novel without much plot (save for the banana search that takes up the last third).
It’s entirely possible that this story is meant as an allegory, and I’m missing some political or cultural connotations that would give it greater emotional depth (it is told in translation from Arabic). But as it is, the narrative distance from the characters and the lack of a clear direction for the early plot kept me from fully engaging with the story.