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I, the Divine: A Novel in First Chapters Hardcover – October 1, 2001


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st edition (October 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039304209X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393042092
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #238,994 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Talk about writer's block; Sarah Nour El-Din never manages to get past the first chapter of the memoir she aspires to pen. Alameddine's innovative novel collects several dozen of (fictional) Sarah's aborted attempts, a structural gimmick that works to create a revealing composite of a character who can't seem to finish her own story. Sarah is the Beirut-born daughter of a love match that went sour; her Lebanese father sent her American mother back to the United States when he tired of her and married a traditional Lebanese wife instead. Saniya, Sarah's stepmother, disapproves of her athletic gifts and packs her off to a strict convent school. Sarah, named after Sarah Bernhardt by her grandfather and just as mischievous and dramatic as the famous actress, grows up in wartorn 1970s Beirut, longing for American freedoms. She emigrates to New York with her first husband, Omar, and resists his attempts to force her to move back to Lebanon, losing custody of her son, Kamal, in the process. Over the next several decades, she marries and divorces again, suffers a devastating breakup with a controlling lover and becomes a well-known painter. Alameddine, a distinguished painter himself, is best known for Koolaids, a novel in which a Lebanese-American gay protagonist discovers he is HIV-positive. His Sarah is a compelling, believable character who struggles to establish an identity as she navigates between cultures, but one wishes that the novel's structure did not mirror her confusion so faithfully. Some vignettes are beautifully written and touching, but others seem rambling or irrelevant. Ultimately, the novel's clever framing device is also its weakness, as the reader yearns for the satisfaction of a linear story.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

Review

Rabih Alameddine's new novel unfolds like a secret, guarded too long, which is at last pushing toward the light. -- Los Angeles Times Book Review, 16 Deceember 2001

[A] work that while marked by radical formal innovation, manages to be warm, sad, funny and moving. -- Michael Chabon, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Nancy Y. Sadiq on August 30, 2004
Format: Paperback
Just like Adonis noted, this novel is completely on point. The life that Sarah Nour El-Din shares with us is one that is rarely so succinctly shown in public, with such truth - especially since Arabs/Arab American's do not ever like to air their "dirty laundry".

It had me completely addicted - It was as if I was watching glimpses of my family and friends lives...and that I was Sarah.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 28, 2002
Format: Hardcover
In our current literary era of quirky, edgy characters fashioned solely for the purpose of being quirky and edgy (e.g., those terribly inauthentic women in Ya Ya Sisterhood, any character of Kingsolver's, most of the women's books of recent years), Alameddine's Sarah is a sigh of relief. Her tales, each an attempt to start off her memoirs, add up to tell the story of a life unique and absolutely compelling that feels, somehow, completely new and comfortably familiar. She is delicious: haughty, clueless, touching, exasperating, deep, shallow, and outrageously funny. The chapter about her tenure as an AIDS support volunteer once again illuminates Alameddine's breathtaking gift for presenting horror with a humor that never makes fun, never downplays, and neither winks nor blinks. Not since A Confederacy of Dunces have we seen anything as delightful as Sarah. This is a book to read, re-read, and only lend to a friend if he gives you something of great value to hold as guarantee of return.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By prasant nukalapati on July 18, 2003
Format: Paperback
This book was a treat. I picked it up at a "2books for 10£" sale at a book store in London, as a companion to justify my other purchase.
I had vaguely heard of the author, Rabih Alameddine, who I believe has been championed by follow Lebanese, historian/author Edward Said. It wasnt until I read the gushing reviews from fellow authors inside that I realized the author was male.
As everybody knows by now, the book is written in a series of first chapters of a book. It was an interesting approach that did take a little while to get used to. Some of the chapters do indeed read like first chapters, and those validate the unique approach well. Others chapters felt less genuine in this regard and understandably, those felt a little gimmicky.
Overall the author does a good job in fleshing the story of Sarah Nour el- Din's life; a story that is being "written" by the protagonist as a memoir. He stumbles a bit in the beginning, and left this reader initially feeling like he had little clue as to how to inhabit the mind of a female character. After a few rough early chapters, Alameddine does a better job in capturing the neccesary nuances. And it is there that the story takes off.
Sarah's "family" is fascinating-- totally disfunctional but ever so clannish. As the novel builds momentum, it is easy to be drawn into the lives of each of the seemingly periferal characters-- fathers, mothers, sons, siblings and lovers.
Something worth noting:
The writing style in a few of the chapters was contrived and annoying-- but as I finished the book I was left with the impression that this was probably intentional. I think it was an effective way to show us the fits and starts that we all experince whenever we sit down to chronicle our own lives either orally or by pen.
I am looking forward to reading Alameddine's first novel "Koolaids."
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By ADONIS EL FAKIH on October 9, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I could not believe that the book is fiction. I laughed, cried, and felt the terror with Sarah. Sarah has an incredible multi-dimensional story interconnected with every member of her family. All of this while trying to figure out where she belongs. Rabih's story telling style let you gaze through the eyes of key people in the story, making you a willing participant in Sarah's life.
Rabih did an excellent job by guiding the reader through the ups and downs of her life, and bringing forward the intricate quarks of the Lebanese Druze culture and the language.
As a Druze and Arab-American, I connected with Sarah and her family from the first pages until the Introduction at the end. I was glued to the book, which I read in one day, although I am not an avid book reader. I also love the never ending chapter 1.
However there are two parts that I did not favor, chapter 1, pp 192-201 due to violence, and pp 231-240 for the dream/faint sequence. Other than that the book is excellent.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 5, 2001
Format: Hardcover
A perfect read for the times! Yes: I, THE DIVINE is an innovative novel--and a brilliant one at that.
But what really makes it tick is the frustrated, complex Sarah, who chapter after chapter, sorts out her story--and finally her family's story too. Plenty of surprises, strong and striking characters, and writing that is sometimes stark and sometimes evocative.
And, although it certainly wasn't written with this in mind, I found that I, THE DIVINE, with its Lebanese and Lebanese-American characters, is a poignant reminder just now that all cultures are really made up of individuals. Their triumphs and their hurts and recognitions co-alesce over the generations into histories that touch us all.
A definite must read.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Ismail Elshareef VINE VOICE on December 18, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This is by far one of the best novels I have read in years. The scattered details of the Lebanese culture and traditions are notably overwhelming. It does not matter what your background or prejudices may be, it is guaranteed you will relate to Sarah Nour El-Din. Between Beirut, New York, San Francisco, Boston and Houston, Sarah's life is a roller coaster of fortunate and not-so-fortunate events that will break you, appease you and elate you. I loved it.
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