Yasmin Zahran : A Beggar at Damascus Gate

The latest addition to my website is Yasmin Zahran‘s A Beggar at Damascus Gate. An unnamed American, born in Beirut, visits Petra in the winter and finds in a cupboard in his room some notebooks. One notebook is in English, written by an Englishman, Alex, several others are in Arabic, written by Rayya, a Palestinian woman. When he leaves he takes the notebooks but learns that an Englishman, presumably Alex, died there three years ago in mysterious circumstances. Our narrator reads the notebooks and decides to write a story of the tempestuous affair of Alex and Rayya, very much coloured by the Palestinian situation. They never live together, he remains in Kent, she in Paris but visit and travel together often. He is suspicious of her previous affairs, reading her notebooks when she is out (she is unaware that he speaks Arabic) while she thinks he might be a spy. We get glimpses of her involvement in things Palestinian and how much she misses her home village while his life remains vague. The narrator writes their story based on the notebooks and then sets out to find Rayya, not a straightforward task. This is first-class novel about a character the narrator describes as the uprooted, the exiled and the oppressed , her life as a Palestinian and her life in a tumultuous love affair.

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