Ameen al-Rihani’s The Register of Repentance: Four Short Stories and a Play
The Register of Repentance is comprised of four short stories and a play. It vividly records the political, religious, and social tragedies that the people of the East endured at the beginning of the twentieth century. These tragedies, regardless of their complexities and grave consequences, seem to always collide with the wall of Destiny as they reach the point of no return where the protagonists are forced to face the inevitable state of repentance that causes them to become rebels and rejectionists refusing to submit to the status quo which they were unable to accept or to change. Unfortunately, their regrets and repentance remain mute and ineffective because they came rather late and overdue to affect a difference in anyone’s life including their own. Consequently, this book traces the various states of delayed regrets and belated apologies and brilliantly portrays the lives of the characters that lived in these situations and endured such tragedies. In this book, as well as throughout his entire career as a free thinker and philosopher, Al-Rihani promotes the right of every individual to live with dignity and freedom and assume full responsibility for his feelings and deeds. He believed that every individual should struggle to maintain his honor, pride, and self-respect even under the most difficult circumstances because submitting to evil is not an option for the “Greater Man” that the author wanted each of us to become. Viewed in its proper historical context, the book emerges as an authentic document that achieves twofold advantages: first, and in a broader sense, it depicts the struggle of every individual in this world when he is confronted with a choice to make between good and evil and focuses on events that oscillate between historical, ancient, and others that were contemporary to the author himself. Second, the book should be evaluated as a literary document that heralded the birth of the short story, novel, and play in the course of modern Arabic literature at the beginning of the twentieth century. Needless to state, al-Rihani was a pioneer in this domain. Another value of this book is that it remains valid today as an authentic document symbolically representing our current political and social reality.Sharif Effendi, Nebuchadnezzar, Abdel Hamid, Taoufik Zaidoun, and the unnamed conqueror in the last story are all live prototypes, who suffered under the ever-increasing worry and anxiety that modern man experienced starting in the middle of the twentieth century, and who endured the existential dilemmas that civilization brought to his world and imposed on his moral fiber and tortured soul.