Mama Hissa’s Mice

Saud Alsanousi

Nominated for the Sheikh Zayed Book Award
Presented with the Contribution to Literature Award by the Gulf Corporation Council

A huge bestseller in Arabic

Mama Hissa's Mice

‘Imagine the dreadful cultural holocaust which would ensue, were the Mongol ruler Hulagu Khan to step out of the pages of history and set fire to the entire corpus of Kuwaiti fiction. If I were asked to select one book to be saved from destruction – just one book to pass on to future generations – I would choose “Mama Hissa’s Mice”.’ Kuwaiti novelist Bothayna Al Essa, Al Sada Magazine, Dubai

‘Katkout, Fahd, and Sadiq grew up in a Kuwait that looked past regional and ideological differences. Mushtaq the Pakistani barber was just as welcome as Adnan the Syrian butcher. But the seeds of discord are easy to plant. Allegiances can be parsed even by whether you pronounced the name of a neighborhood as Omariya in the Sunni style, or Umairiya, the Shia equivalent. The Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and the larger geopolitical machinations lead by the “coalition of the willing” leverage these fault lines to violent outcomes. The three friends form an activist group, Fuada’s Kids, to reclaim their country but are soon targeted by extremists. Alsanousi peppers a grim historical narrative of Kuwait with generous doses of warmth doled out by the lively Mama Hissa, Katkout’s grandmother. Although the story is overambitious in its reach, a cast of colorful characters winningly delivers the sights and smells of Kuwait. Yet “they hadn’t brought the real Kuwait back, just something that looks like it,” laments Katkout. Readers will appreciate the deep bonds of friendship among Katkout, Fahd and Sadiq as they grow up in each other’s homes.’ Booklist USA

‘Beautiful, affecting … Mama Hissa’s Miceis a rich and resonant book that asks more questions than it (or anyone) can answer: What do stories — of past grudges, of present loves, of friendship despite historical differences — mean? How do they shape our realities? How much power do we have to change these stories? At times bleak and at others uplifting — the arrival of a young girl who believes in Fuada’s Kids’ mission toward the end of the novel feels like a symbol of hope and future possibility — Alsanousi’s book, reflective of his own particular country, culture and sociopolitical context, can serve as both window and mirror to Western readers.’ NPR USA

‘You will discover beautiful writing about the Arab world that includes Mama Hissa’s fables. Katkout and his friends love her tales about the importance of following God’s will, even though they find the very existence of God difficult to fathom considering the wreckage around them… insight into a country and culture rarely considered in Western literature.’ Washington Post

‘I consider that “Mama Hissa’s Mice” is no less valuable and significant than “The Bamboo Stalk”, which won the so-called “Arabic Booker” prize. Indeed, it may be intellectually and artistically deeper. It is a multi-layered, richly allusive novel.’ Mahmoud Abdel Shakour, Al Tahreer newspaper, Egypt

‘The novel is a scream of protest to the entire world, that there is no benefit to humanity and no way of saving it unless we are united.’ Ibrahem Adel Zeid, Altagreer, Egypt

The events of Alsanousi’s new novel take place from Khomeini’s revolution against the Shah of Iran in 1979, through the eight year Iran-Iraq war and the Iraq-Kuwait war, and ending with an imaginary civil war in Kuwait, in 2020. It follows the lives of three boys who are neighbours, but from different ethnic origins and religious denominations. One of them, the narrator, tells the story of their friendship and living side by side in the three houses in their old street, and how this story ends horribly 42 years later because of sectarian differences which lead to civil war. The events reflect present day reality in the Middle East, where wars are now fought in the name of religion and sect. Four Kuwaiti generations: the grandmothers, the fathers, the grandchildren and the children of the grandchildren. The first, from the era of mud houses before oil, is simple and tolerant. The second raises the banner of Arab nationalism and regards the West with hostility. The third – that of the three boys – regards the West, and America in particular, as its saviour, after Western powers led the war to liberate Kuwait in 1991. The last generation lives in an imaginary period in the future and is completely lost. Through the experiences of these four generations, we discover the psychological effect of wars in the Middle East, and how they change people’s thinking, behaviour and relationships. The novel’s main events are punctuated by stories of love and friendship which bring the heroes of the story together despite their religious differences.

‘This is a novel about how suspicion and exclusion can lead to violence, and how truth and art can heal us all. Yet it also bears a foreboding message that war will continue unless we can connect and unite in a movement of understanding and peace. The reader watches, helpless, much like Katkout, as the neighborhood transforms from tolerant to nationalistic, dissolving into hostility, then complete chaos. This novel should be used in classrooms to educate students about what got the world to this place. The novel has a place on the general reader’s bookshelf because of lovable Katkout andhis desire to do the right thing despite every reason to do the contrary.’ The New York Journal of Books


  • ASP/Difaf Arabic
  • Amazon Crossing World English

Material: finished copies of Arabic edition (437pp); English sample chapters and synopsis.