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.

Rafael Chirbes: Paris-Austerlitz


The latest addition to my website is Rafael ChirbesParis-Austerlitz. Chirbes had started this book in 1996, put it aside and then returned to it later, only finishing it last year, shortly before he died. It is a semi-autobiographical account of a homosexual relationship between a young bourgeois Spanish painter and a much older working-class French man. The unnamed narrator, the Spanish painter, has been thrown out his flat for not paying his rent and is taken in by Michel, who not only puts him up but looks after him and gives him money. Initially the relationship works well and the two are happy together. However, the narrator cannot really paint, as Michel’s flat is too small and too dark, so when he inherits some money he rents an adjacent flat with more space and light. This is the beginning of the end of the relationship. Gradually the relationship falls apart. Already at the beginning of the book, we know what has happened, as Michel is in hospital with AIDS, from a relationship after he broke up with the narrator. What makes this book more interesting than other similar works is the narrator’s detailed analysis of the relationship and of his and Michel’s motivation and feelings. This is certainly not his best book but nevertheless an interesting swan song.

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