Abdul and Akil
An intimate portrayal of lives haunted by guilt, fear and shame
It is the summer of 1978. With the world at their feet, Nola, Doris and Gaby head off on holiday together: three 17-year-old girls in search of a sun-drenched paradise. André, a devil-may-care character they bump into on the way to the campsite, is more than willing to be their guide. On the banks of a river in France the world seems sultry, free and innocent. Until romance blossoms between André and Gaby and they decide to spend the rest of the summer together picking grapes. Nola and Doris go their own way and arrange to meet up with the two lovers later.
Abdul and Akil cross the path of Nola and Doris when the girls call in at a village café to ask directions to the vineyard where André and Gaby are working. The two Tunisians offer to help but first they suggest taking a walk together. The girls agree, perhaps to prove to themselves that they have nothing to fear from a pair of young immigrants. It is a decision that changes everything: Nola is raped by Abdul and Doris is sexually assaulted by Akil. Entius gives a calm and controlled account of their ordeal.
Back in Amsterdam, Nola goes to university and seems to have put the events of the summer behind her. The friendship with Doris and Gaby fades into the background. But that one afternoon – the blue sky, the dark eyes of the two boys – is still there under her skin. Almost imperceptible to anyone who does not know what took place, but an unmistakable influence on Nola’s dealings with men. She finds herself feeling guilty for reporting the rape to the police after promising Abdul she would not. He is given a six-year prison sentence, while Nola believes that for her the consequences have not been so bad.
Doris has become fearful: afraid of men with dark eyes, afraid of the dark-skinned young men who hang around on the park bench in front of her house. She is seriously ill but cannot bring herself to tell anyone, just as she has never told Nola exactly what happened to her that afternoon in France. Eventually it is one of the boys from the bench in whom she confides. She tells him she does not have long to live and even finds the courage to invite him into her house. His name means ‘angel’.
In Abdul and Akil, Entius brings a lightness of touch to her exploration of emotionally fraught themes. Harnessing the power of subtlety and suggestion, she shows how individuals can be shaped by moments in their lives, and how prejudice and political correctness can feed into our reasoning. Reality has many faces. A victim can feel like a perpetrator, a single event contains many stories, and as human beings we are all too ready to fill the gaps in someone else’s story. Abdul and Akil gently interferes with our ingrained patterns of thought and that is what makes it such an unsettling and important book.