"I have been building a pyramid since I became aware I was here ... in 1947, when I was five," writes the author of this luminous memoir. Each "stone" in this pyramid represents a key moment in Anwar Accawi's life, recounted in chapters of polished prose that bring vividly to the reader's eye his tiny natal village in southern Lebanon: Magdaluna, "the Tower of the Moon." The death of a beloved baby chick, killed by a snake; the moment when 5-year-old Anwar discovered the written word; the day each fall when the olive-oil press begins operation for the harvest season. From these intimate, palpable episodes the author re-creates a vanished world in which time was measured by the position of the sun and the calendar "was framed by acts of God ... people were born so many years before or after an earthquake or flood." The advent of the telephone and automobile ("magic carpet of the twentieth century") link Magdaluna to the outside world and gradually destroy its centuries-old tradition of self-sufficiency; the Lebanese Civil War (1975-90) completes the village's "slow and agonizing death." Yet Magdaluna remains alive in Accawi's loving portrait, a gentle recollection of childhood that doubles as a poignant reminder of modernity's sometimes devastating impact. --Wendy Smith
From Publishers Weekly
Bustling, "obscenely poor," disease-ridden, Magdaluna ("Tower of the Moon") is a Lebanese village where everybody is related to everybody else by blood or marriage. The town's petty scandals, bitter feuds, oral traditions and colorful characters provide grist for Accawi's bittersweet memoir, a series of essays told with sprightly humor and imbued with the ironic wisdom of a mature man looking back on youthful na?vet?. By age five, the precocious narrator realizes that grownups are fickle, cruel, often amoral. The narrative is loosely structured around "learning moments," or "steps" on the metaphorical "pyramid" of personal identity that Accawi erects skyward: the death of a beloved raccoon, the village's very first radio in 1947, his discovery of the written word and so forth. The strongest piece deals with his deeply religious, Presbyterian, no-nonsense grandmother, whose faith was sorely tested by the cancer that left her paralyzed from the waist down. While Accawi's father is a distant figure, his tough Syrian mother, illiterate but wise, steels him to face life's challenges. The wide-eyed narrator nostalgically evokes visits to the village by itinerant Gypsies, a Turkish bear trainer, a Moroccan medicine man. But emigration and the advent of cars and telephones fueled the village's slow, agonizing death and, after the Lebanese civil war broke out in 1975, Muslim soldiers razed the hamlet. Throughout, Accawi, who now teaches at the English Language Insitute in Knoxville, Tenn., spins lyrical, magical stories, vividly charting a boy's awakening to the mysteries of death, life, grief, sex and God. (May) FYI: A portion of this book appeared in Best American Essays 1998.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.