What We Are Reading Today: The Critical Case of K

Updated 09 August 2018

What We Are Reading Today: The Critical Case of K

This engaging novel in Arabic by Aziz Mohammed, a Saudi author and blogger from Alkhobar, tells the story of a lonely, melancholic person who defends his individuality against a social and economic system that threatens to overwhelm him.

The protagonist, who is frustrated by his limited abilities and is determined to protect his privacy, receives news that turns his life upside down.

He falls ill with leukemia and struggles with his family and work environment.

Although the author does not specify the society or country where the novel is set, the story could be based on the life of an ordinary young employee at an oil company in the eastern region of Saudi Arabia.

The novel is written in a diary format — after reading Kafka, "K" decides to write a diary, too — with the protagonist recording his daily battles with life in a  sarcastic voice.

The narrative flows smoothly, and the writing style follows a simple sentence structure and vocabulary choice.

Relationships have neither real value nor influence in the story. "K" is a lonely man who makes little effort to end his isolation — and that makes his story interesting and touching.

The novel, published by Lebanon's Dar Al-Tanweer, is 31-year-old Mohammed's first published novel. It was on the shortlist for the 2018 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (Booker).

What We Are Reading Today: The Philosopher, the Priest, and the Painter

Updated 20 August 2018

What We Are Reading Today: The Philosopher, the Priest, and the Painter

In the Louvre museum hangs a portrait that is considered the iconic image of René Descartes, the great 17th-century French philosopher. 

And the painter of the work? The Dutch master Frans Hals — or so it was long believed, until the work was downgraded to a copy of an original. But where is the authentic version, and who painted it? Is the man in the painting — and in its original — really Descartes?

A unique combination of philosophy, biography, and art history, The Philosopher, the Priest, and the Painter investigates the remarkable individuals and circumstances behind a small portrait.

Through this image — and the intersecting lives of a brilliant philosopher, a Catholic priest, and a gifted painter — Steven Nadler opens a fascinating portal into Descartes’s life and times, skillfully presenting an accessible introduction to Descartes’s philosophical and scientific ideas, and an illuminating tour of the volatile political and religious environment of the Dutch Golden Age.

 As Nadler shows, Descartes’s innovative ideas about the world, about human nature and knowledge, and about philosophy itself, stirred great controversy. Philosophical and theological critics vigorously opposed his views, and civil and ecclesiastic authorities condemned his writings. Nevertheless, Descartes’s thought came to dominate the philosophical world of the period, and can rightly be called the philosophy of the 17th century.

 Shedding light on a well-known image, The Philosopher, the Priest, and the Painter offers an engaging exploration of a celebrated philosopher’s world and work.

Steven Nadler is the William H. Hay II professor of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin — Madison. His books include Rembrandt’s Jews, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; Spinoza: A Life, which won the Koret Jewish Book Award; and A Book Forged in Hell: Spinoza’s Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age (Princeton).