In the country of men

« When Moosa read, you had to stop and listen, he wouldn’t have it any other way. He would sit on the edge of his seat and put me [the narrator, Suleiman, 9-year old] opposite him. His hands would change with the words, sometimes quick and urgent and sometimes gentle and slow, and when he would reach a place he liked he would leave the book open on his lap, clap his hands and sing into the air above us, ‘Allah,! Praise be to God how sweet words can be,’ or about the author, ‘What’s all of this light, this wonder, this spectacular majesty, this precision – absolute precision of language, I swear!’ Then he would pick up the book and continue reading.
Moosa infected me with his love of language. He did annoy me, though, when reading prose, he skipped big chunks or added in his own bits. I could tell when he started adding because his eyes would leave the page and stare at me. If he wasn’t inventing them then where was he getting it from?
‘The person who wrote this big fat book, Moosa, didn’t write these words,’ I would tell him. ‘He didn’t want them there or else he would have put them in himself. You can’t put words in his mouth!’
He would smile to himself, jiggle his leg, then slap the book with the back of his hand. ‘But he’s going in circles.’
‘Just read as it is on the page,’ I would plead.
‘But he’s fumbling all over the place. He crawls to say what he wants to say. I know what he’s getting at, so let me bring it to you from the end.’ Then, in a military fashion, he would say, ‘Silence! Full attention!’ and resume reading as soon as he was able to erase the smile from his face. »

From Hisham Matar, ‘In the Country of Men’.

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