Category: Lebanon

Najwa Barakat: مستر نون (Mister N)

The latest addition to my website is Najwa Barakat‘s مستر نون (Mister N). Mister N is a failed Lebanese writer who currently lives in a hotel, rarely leaving it. We gradually learn his story – horrors of the Lebanese Civil War, a mother he hated as she much preferred his older brother, Sa’id, now a successful businessman and a father who was a doctor, helping the poor and whom Mr N saw die. He has had two long-term relationships – the first dumped him and the second was with a Nepali prostitute whose pimp did not take kindly to him. One day he does leave the hotel (looking for a spare part for his toilet) and comes across Luhman. Luhman was a Civil War thug and murderer who died. More importantly, he was fictitious , a character in one of Mr. N’s books. Luhman keeps reappearing, his neighbours have serious mental health issues and he himself is increasingly unable to cope with life, language and people. Gradually we learn of his past and how he ended up in this hotel and who he and Luhman might really be. It is a splendid, complicated, colourful book.

Maryse Condé: En attendant la montée des eaux (Waiting for the Waters to Rise)

The latest addition to my website is Maryse Condé‘s En attendant la montée des eaux (Waiting for the Waters to Rise). We follow the story of Babakar, a doctor, son of a Malian father and Guadeloupean mother. He is born in Mali, educated in Montreal, returns to Africa (a fictitious country, a neighbour of Mali) where he experiences civil war, the loss of his wife, imprisonment and lots of violence. He flees to Guadeloupe, living a fairly solitary life but (illegally) adopts a baby girl whose Haitian mother has just died in childbirth and whose partner, Movar, is committed to finding the baby’s roots. So off they go to Haiti where life is even grimmer than in Africa and everyone – Babakar, Movar, the baby’s family, various political leaders and others – are caught up in violence, corruption, hurricanes and earthquakes. It is a grim tale but Condé tells it well and we cannot help but pity the innocent caught up in all the mayhem.

Rabih Alameddine: The Angel of History


The latest addition to my website is Rabih Alameddine‘s The Angel of History. As with his first novel, Koolaids, the main theme of this book is about how the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco has been relegated to the back pages and racism towards Arabs is to the fore, with the situation in the Middle East – in this case Yemen and the Arab Spring more than the War in Lebanon – also ignored. We follow the story of Ya’qub a gay man living in San Francisco, who was conceived when his father was fourteen and who spent much of his childhood with his mother, a Yemeni prostitute. He has a confrontational relationship with Satan and Satan, along with Death and the Fourteen Holy Helpers, plays a key role in this book. Satire is very much to the fore but this novel is much more bitter than its predecessor and does not have the humour nor, indeed, the passion of the previous one.

Rabih Alameddine: Koolaids


The latest addition to my website is Rabih Alameddine‘s Koolaids. This is a first-class novel about two forgotten (according to the author) wars: the The Lebanese Civil War and the involvement in that war of Syria and Israel, and the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco. The book has multiple narrators who, in a series of vignettes, describe the two wars. Most of the main characters end up dead, either from AIDS-related diseases or from bombs or bullets in Lebanon. This could have been a very sad novel of death and destruction and, certainly, to some degree it is. But Alameddine takes an often cynical point of view, gallows humour, if you will. Not only do we get first-hand accounts from various key characters, we get a playlet featuring, amongst others, Eleanor Roosevelt, Arjuna, Krishnamurti, Julio Cortázar, and Tom Cruise. We get the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse having a go at one another. But we also get the author’s cynical and witty attacks on those to blame: the drug companies for the AIDS crisis and Syria, Israel, the Phalange and other participants for the situation in Lebanon. This book is both funny and heart-rending. Above all, it is an excellent account of two forgotten wars by a man who knew both.

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