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Origins: A Memoir Hardcover – Bargain Price, May 13, 2008

3.9 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Hardcover, Bargain Price, May 13, 2008
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this sensitive if mildly overwritten memoir of long-held secrets, betrayal and denial, Maalouf, who won the 1993 Prix Goncourt for Rock of Tanios, traces his familial history from a tiny mountainside village in Lebanon to Cuba and back. Presented, upon the death of his father, with a trunkful of documents, Maalouf sifts through the detritus of letters, journals and diary entries in search of information on his great uncle Gebrayel, whose life is swathed in family legends. At eighteen, he simply boarded a ship leaving for America, Maalouf writes of Gebrayel, but after a three-year sojourn in New York City, he emigrated to Cuba. Maalouf pieces together Gebrayel's Cuban life, quoting extensively from his letters. The author also exerts much literary effort conjuring up the internal machinations of a family torn asunder by societal changes, the internecine clash of local religious beliefs and growing family enmity toward their wayward uncle. In the end, Maalouf travels to Cuba and, with the help of a plucky distant relative, finds the location of Gebrayel's house. For all his personal struggles, Maalouf never really manages to lift this book from mere family recollection to any larger cultural insight. (June)
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From Booklist

Maalouf is a Lebanese-born journalist who moved to Paris in 1975 to escape the ravages of the civil war in his homeland. In this riveting and intriguing memoir, he describes himself and his family as a rather nomadic clan, without deep emotional ties to place or religious affiliation. When his father died, Maalouf was given the task of informing his grandmother. As a result, he came into possession of several letters from a great uncle, Gabrayel, who had immigrated to Cuba and died there early in the twentieth century. His brother, Boutros (Maalouf’s grandfather) had traveled to Cuba to rescue him from some dire circumstances, and Maalouf’s investigation of that mission forms the core of his narrative. The result is an excellent family saga that also works as a mystery and even as a discourse on the political culture of Lebanon. Maalouf is a gifted writer; he has a knack for maintaining dramatic tension as he reveals his efforts to uncover his family’s secrets, layer by layer, as his search extends over three continents. This is an intensely personal and compelling story. --Jay Freeman
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (May 13, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374227322
  • ASIN: B0046LUIFQ
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,832,740 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Anna Uriburu on December 14, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I love Amin Maalouf. I saw him mentioned on twitter by a follower of mine and decided to try one of his books. I love the way he writes and his way of conveying feelings and thoughts about the things that happen in the book. I liked him so much that I also have purchased Balthasar's Odyssey by him. So far, I like that one, too.
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By Mira on October 16, 2009
Format: Paperback
Amin Maalouf's biographical narrative on the history of his family reads like one of his many well-written books. Maalouf's books, with no exception, can not only transport you back in time, but also acclimatise you with foreign lands in which you have never set foot. Such is the effect of his writing that I can easily conjure up vivid images of an Ottoman Lebanese village from the late nineteenth century.

Maalouf's interest in his own origins, and its impact on his writings is made known when he reveals in one of the chapters how a story of a cousin who goes on a hunger-strike to challenge family's objection to his desire to further pursue his studies has inspired the story of the struggle through which the main protagonist in his book, The Rock of Tanios, had to go through.

The Maaloufs may have led a very ordinary life, but the presentation of their lives and the branching out that had subsequently occurred within the family, allowing it to stretch throughout various continents is what makes it an extraordinary story. Moreover, the author's personal journey, both emotional and physical, to trace the lives of great-uncles and great-grandfathers relying solely on surviving correspondences that were saved by family gives the narrative an intense edge, transforming it into a scintillating cinematic spectacle in the mind's eye of the reader. The book, unfortunately, ends too soon before the reader's curiosity is satiated. We are made aware that the author's primary source and window on the past was his father, but there is little said about Rushdi, whose name is mentioned only once in the book. I wonder, will the author follow this one with a sequel? I do hope so.

Origins is very original and enjoyable. I suddenly feel a strong and intimate belonging to the village of Machrah. Lebanon is the land of mythical real-life stories and brilliant story-tellers.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Tasteful choice of words, clear, and great order of events. Very smooth. All these great things however, are in the background. The biggest impression on me, was how he describes the mentality of many of us, in a different time and setting. Some of us live, by taking what we need from grandma and grandma, mom and dad, and ready to go "out" to the world. Amin found that there is also a world "in". by "in" I mean, he decided to spend his days getting to know his family members, vice, getting to know friends, teachers, and others. Through his journey of investigation we learn about his family's culture, draw our own conclusions about his family members, and become interested in the found evidence.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Growing up we had a family story about my Great Grandfather Gabriel who emigrated to Cuba from Lebanon in the early 1900's. The author, Amin Maalouf, had a similar story on the other side of the world about the same person, his Great Uncle Gabriel. Although similar stories, and equally mysterious, our stories were different. Amin (my 3rd cousin, or so) sets off on an amazing adventure to discovery what exactly happened to Gabriel. A fascinating story, and beautifully written. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Matt Brown, Spokane, WA
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a fascinating personal history of a Lebanese family and its emigration to various countries and continents in the world. The Maalouf family's story parallels so many other families in the world that experience a kind of diaspora caused by hardships of one kind or another: economic issues, family conflicts and war. The story of the author's search for information backed up with his own travels to various sites including the USA and Cuba is another fascinating backdrop to the memoir. He is able to connect his family to Maaloufs living in Utah and Texas today. Anyone who enjoys learning about history through personal memoirs will appreciate this book.
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