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The Hakawati Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 22, 2008
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Amazon Guest Review: Amy Tan
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Stories descend from stories as families descend from families in the magical third novel from Alameddine (I, the Divine), telling tales of contemporary Lebanon that converge, ingeniously, with timeless Arabic fables. With his father dying in a Beirut hospital, Osama al-Khattar, a Los Angeles software engineer, returns in 2003 for the feast of Eid al-Hada. As he keeps watch with his sister, Lina, and extended family, Osama narrates the family history, going back to his great-grandparents, and including his grandfather, a hakawati, or storyteller. Their stories are crosscut with two sinuous Arabian tales: one of Fatima, a slave girl who torments hell and conquers the heart of Afreet Jehanam, a genie; another of Baybars, the slave prince, and his clever servant, Othman. Osama's family story generates a Proustian density of gossip: their Beirut is luxuriant as only a hopelessly insular world on the cusp of dissolution can be; its interruption by the savagery that takes hold of the city in the '70s is shocking. The old, tolerant Beirut is symbolized by Uncle Jihad: a gay, intensely lively storyteller, sexually at odds with a society he loves. Uncle Jihad's death marks a symbolic break in the chain of stories and traditions—unless Osama assumes his place in the al-Khattar line. Almost as alluring is the subplot involving a contemporary Fatima as a femme fatale whose charms stupefy and lure jewelry from a whole set of Saudi moneymen, and her sexy sister Mariella, whose beauty queen career (helped by the votes of judges cowed by her militia leader lovers) is tragically, and luridly, aborted.Alameddine's own storytelling ingenuity seems infinite: out of it he has fashioned a novel on a royal scale, as reflective of past empires as present. (Apr.)
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Top customer reviews
Rabih Alameddine gives us a great picture of the diversity that was Lebanon and the crisis of the destruction of that diversity in their civil war. This destruction of a diverse multi-cultural society was a tragedy and the tragedy comes alive as it impacts the Lebanese family that is the central armature of the novel.
Both the long running family drama and the long running tales of magic and fantasy weave together and fully entertain.
The writing is incredible and evocative. I could hear the cries of the pigeons in the Pigeon Wars, and smell the coffee and tobacco in the Lebanese cafes (so much so that I've added Lebanon onto my list of places to go visit and explore).
If you enjoy stories within stories, The Hakawati does not disappoint. If you like your stories one at a time with a straightforward linear progression - there are a lot of other choices out there.
But for me, I'd love to be able to be with the grandfather, sitting in a small cafe, hushed, listening to the Hakawati, watching his hands and his eyes as he begins, "Listen and I will tell you the story of...."
Layered onto the story of this multigeneration family are the wild fables of Lebanon. In one moment you want to hear what happens to the family, the next you are totally absorbed in some wild tale. Tales emerge within tales to our delight.
I haven't enjoyed a book this much in ages.