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Edward Chambers is a drunken buffoon. But he’s also a pretty good guy. He teaches English Lit at Emirates University in Al Ain, a provincial city in the UAE. The Emirates—Al Ain in particular, EU in very particular—is a logic-free zone. Nothing makes even the smallest scrap of sense, at least not to outsiders. HOUSE OF MOURNING, HEART OF FOOLS follows Edward as he tries to negotiate the slippery, labyrinthine, congested, Escher-like path of life (and work and romance) in Al Ain. It’s half literary sociology, half adventure novel, half mystery and half academic satire. Yes, that’s 4 halves, I know, which is arithmetically unsound, but that’s just how much novel you’re getting here. If you like the exotic detective books of Alexander McCall Smith or the witty campus novels of David Lodge, then HOUSE OF MOURNING is for you. If you want to read about modern-day slavery in the UAE, and how a bumbling fichus-haired professor deals with the issue, then read this novel. If you think universities are filled with pompous, ineffectual, pathetic, non-entity jerk-offs, even in the best of times, then step right up. If you’re a fan of James Joyce and the guy who writes Dilbert, or if you like The Office and vampire fiction, then by all means, I guess, read on. HOUSE OF MOURNING is a poignant, unusual, tragicomic tale of life abroad. The story is told from a number of diverse perspectives, including an Indian servant, a hotel bar (assistant) manager, a highway, the city of Al Ain, an utterly useless Emirati teacher, a pretentious fake-British professor, Edward’s girlfriend, an FBI agent, and some others that I can’t remember. HOUSE OF MOURNING exposes the dark, frustrating, convoluted, sclerotic, heart of the UAE, Al Ain, academia, expat life, insanely incompetent drivers and the human condition. Dating is also a large part of the novel, but gutter-minds should be forewarned: the “adult” subject matter is handled tactfully, modestly, even a bit squeamishly. (Note: EU is definitely not a thinly disguised version of UAEU, a “real” university. “Oasis Dying” is, furthermore, not the fictional analogue of a real-world magazine. This is not a roman a clef. Please look elsewhere for acerbic, embarrassing, sadly accurate portraits of your friends and colleagues.)
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Andrew Madigan lived in the UAE for 8 years researching his novels. He also lived in Tokyo, Korea, the UK, Okinawa, New York & St. Louis. After (barely) earning a BA in English from William & Mary, Andrew worked as a lifeguard and carpenter. His early career was eclectic: carrying a sandwich board for a going-out-of-business sale; investigating fraud for the government; collating industrial manuals in a warehouse; temping; stand-in and body-double for Bill Murray; janitor; Domino's delivery boy; answering phones at a Catholic church; substitute high school teacher; waiter; deli factotum; landscaper; swimming instructor; etc. Andrew earned a PhD in American studies from Saint Louis U, after which he taught grammar, lit, history, film, sociology, creative writing, Arabic Studies, humanities, technical & business writing, communications & public speaking. Basically, everything but what he was qualified to do. Cleaning toilets turned out to be the perfect training for higher education. Andrew taught for many 16th and 17th rate universities. He also taught online for several years, which was a great way to get paid for sitting around in your underwear drinking coffee and playing with your computer. In Al Ain, UAE, Andrew wrote for, and was eventually Senior Editor of, a truly horribly putrid magazine. The stuff they printed wouldn't have been accepted by even the 4th-tier bus station bathroom walls of Uzbekistan. Kazakhstan, maybe. But the experience was made tolerable by all the corruption, lies and mismanagement. It reminded him of academia. Andrew has...worked on academic and literary journals...skateboarded competitively...vomited on the rugby pitch...cried in his Speedo at a swim meet...and won several goldfish-eating contests. In 2012, Andrew retired from teaching because he was always just a few months away from getting fired. And he didn't like working with professors and administrators. Not because they were incompetent, pompous, under-intelligent, untrustworthy, ill-groomed, scraggly-bearded and fatuous. No, not at all. It wasn't them. It was him. Andrew is now a freelance editor and writer (short fiction, longer fiction, journalism, angry screeds that he regrets the next morning). He lives in Northern Virginia with his wife (Maura), three daughters (Annie, Kate, Grace) and a beautiful CD collection (George). He spends his time listening to vinyl, drinking absinthe, reading rock magazines, and doing the Guardian cryptic crossword.
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