A couple days ago I started reading The Panther by Nelson DeMille. “Yay,” I thought, “Finally another book to write about on my blog. Almost nobody writes novels with Arab villains these days.” But Mr. DeMille came through.
Rather than wait until I finish it, I’m going to start with my thoughts so far, as they are many, plus I just got to something that really tickled my funny bone.
I’ve mentioned in my previous posts about Nelson DeMille’s Arab-related novels that he really seems fascinated almost to the level of having a fetish about Arab names. The villain of two of his previous novels was named Asad Something or Other. Asad is a very common proper name and it means lion, and throughout both books the author or perhaps the narrator just couldn’t stop comparing the human being to a lion.
Arab names are a lot more likely to be words still in use in Arabic, unlike names in English, which come from all kinds of languages so that we often have no idea what their original meaning was. Nevertheless, being named Asad in the Arab world is very much like being named Mike or Jim or Dave in the US. No big deal.
Protagonist John Corey killed “The Lion” in a previous novel. His new nemesis is “The Panther.” In the case of this new guy, his given name was something else, and he actually chose to be called “the panther,” or al-numayr. (Al Numair in the novel). Numayr is a word I didn’t know, so I looked it up. I did a Google image search. I looked at over 100 image results without seeing a single picture of any kind of big cat. I saw lots and lots of pictures of Arab human beings named Numayr. (I searched on النمير, for those who wish to recreate my experience).
And what’s killing me is that John Corey can NOT think of this guy without mentally calling him “The Panther” and comparing him with a big cat. You know how you do, like when you watch golf and compare Tiger Woods to a real tiger, or listen to Charlie Parker and muse on how much like a bird he is?
Later I hope to piece together my thoughts on John Corey’s casual racism (but Arab isn’t a race!) and his Iraqi-American Muslim pal who denigrates Islam, but for now I must rush to page 208. Up to this point, John Corey has mentally or verbally referred to “The Panther” at least two dozen times (I’m estimating), and remember, the man nicknamed himself al-Numayr or Al Numair, not “The Panther”–and from what I know after 20 years of Arabic plus a lengthy google search, it is not at all a common word for panther–when he is introduced to Dr. Fahd.
Corey has nothing to say about Dr. Fahd’s name, or how much Dr. Fahd resembles any given animal. No internal musings on the prey-predator relationship or nocturnal habits or hunting ranges or anything…because John Corey doesn’t know what Fahd means. Fahd is just a man’s name.
Guess what Fahd means. “Panther.” A Google image search brings up mostly pics of cheetahs, I saw one of black leopard, and I’ve also told it can mean ‘lynx.’