Mai Al-Nakib, an author from Kuwait who got her PhD. in English literature from Brown University, knows how to capture an American audience, and her descriptions and her narrative style in this remarkable collection of stories are so attuned to her characters and subjects that readers will actually experience – not just “learn about” – parts of the world which most of us know only second-hand. Set in Kuwait, Lebanon, and Palestine, and, through the travel of some of these characters, in Japan and Greece, her stories are filled with word pictures so vivid that many readers will come close to feeling the reality of day-to-day life in these places. She opens new worlds, and by the time the collection ends, many readers will be viewing life in these parts of the world with clearer vision and greater empathy. The passage of time, the fragility of life, the effects of change, and the transcience of memory unite this story and connect it to other stories in this collection. The title of the collection, The Hidden Light of Objects, attests to the importance of the story objects within these stories, and while none of us, perhaps, regard our own “souvenirs” or keepsakes as “story objects” in quite the same way as they are used here, it is impossible not to identify with the characters here as they share their intimate thoughts and feelings with us as readers. Separating the ten short stories are series of ten short vignettes, which sometimes connect with each other and within various stories. This extraordinary collection deals with the biggest, most universal themes of literature, told through the eyes of characters with whom readers will identify and, perhaps, gain in understanding.
Category Archive for 'Lebanon'
Told by Aaliya Saleh, a woman who “long ago abandoned [herself] to a blind lust for the written word,” this remarkable literary novel by Lebanese author Rabih Alameddine allows readers to follow the speaker into worlds which often feel familiar because of the emphasis on books the reader knows, but also into other worlds, previously unknown, based on her life in Beirut. From the opening pages, Aaliya, in her seventies, is totally honest with the reader. Within a few pages of the book’s opening, we learn that Aaliya is now a divorced, single woman who translates one novel every year from English or French to Arabic. Gradually, Aaliya fills in further details of her life, eventually bringing the chronology to the present, but it is a wayward journey, one the literature and music lover will thrill to take with her, reading slowly to savor her observations and the way she connects her life to observations by dozens of novelists and philosophers from all periods and from all over the world, often to the accompaniment of musical references to provide additional mood. Despite its lack of strong plot, there is nothing bland about this fascinating and absorbing novel, and booklovers will smile at the ironies involved in the conclusion.
Told by Marianna, a young woman who has lost all sense of “home” as a result of the more than ten years of warfare she lived through in her homeland of Lebanon, this impressionistic psychological novel begins with her dreams of “before the war was real.” Romantic images of her mother “wander[ing] outside, smelling the ghostly jasmine in the dark, and Daddy open[ing] another old book under a lamp” overlap with images of her grandparents lighting the candles on a Christmas tree while sweet wine boils on the stove. Now the war is “real,” however. Years have passed, and the old reality she yearns for remains only in her dreams. Marianna, now eighteen, is in another place, America, her father’s birthplace, where, she believes, “nothing can be beautiful” and where she looks “inward to the night, to my dream self who had promised that this time I really had gone back home to my true life.” The warfare she experienced in Lebanon, which began in 1975-76, when she was seven, is now thousands of miles away, but she has been unable to cope with a new life in the US. Focusing almost exclusively on the four people in this family, on their friends, on those who died in the war (between 1975 and 1990), and on Lebanon itself, author Patricia Sarrafian Ward recreates the psychological damage of war.