7 August 12 | Aleksandra Fazlipour | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Quantum Sarah on Elias Khoury’s As Though She Were Sleeping, which is translated from the Arabic by Marilyn Booth and is available from Archipelago Books.

Here is part of her review:

Elias Khoury’s As Though She Were Sleeping (Archipelago, 2012) is a love story, a family tragedy, and a journey through Levantine cultural history. Considering the radical stance of Khoury’s other works – notably, Gate of the Sun, the first “magnum opus” of the Palestinian people – this novel is a more conservative project. The year is 1946. Milia, an apolitical Beiruti dreamer, leads a “double life”: by inhabiting her dreams as fully as her waking life, she can speak with the dead and prophesy the future. Mansour, her wayward Palestinian husband, flees the harsh reality of his country by burying himself in sensual pleasures: ancient poetry, Milia’s beauty, and Levantine cuisine. As political turmoil in the region escalates, Milia finds herself increasingly trapped by impending catastrophe and fears for her newly-conceived child. To cope, she turns to the dream world for insight, trekking backward and forward in time to converse with deceased family members and saints.

As Khoury explores Milia’s life and dreams, he points to the many paradoxes of living in the “holy land.” After all, this is the same soil where Cain murdered Abel. Its inhabitants inherit not just a rich cultural tradition, but also a dark and complicated legacy of madness. Mansour discovers that “. . . he had begun to loathe this land in which he lived. Can anyone truly live in a country saturated with legends and miracles and prophets? This is a country that drives anyone who lives here insane, he would think” (241). And Milia becomes increasingly obsessed with the fantastic tradition of fathers killing sons. Abraham planned to slaughter Isaac; God sacrificed Jesus; Milia’s grandfather Salim nearly murdered his only son with a thrown rock. Will Milia’s son be next?

Click here to read the entire review.

7 August 12 | Aleksandra Fazlipour | Comments

Elias Khoury’s As Though She Were Sleeping (Archipelago, 2012) is a love story, a family tragedy, and a journey through Levantine cultural history. Considering the radical stance of Khoury’s other works – notably, Gate of the Sun, the first “magnum opus” of the Palestinian people – this novel is a more conservative project. The year is 1946. Milia, an apolitical Beiruti dreamer, leads a “double life”: by inhabiting her dreams as fully as her waking life, she can speak with the dead and prophesy the future. Mansour, her wayward Palestinian husband, flees the harsh reality of his country by burying himself in sensual pleasures: ancient poetry, Milia’s beauty, and Levantine cuisine. As political turmoil in the region escalates, Milia finds herself increasingly trapped by impending catastrophe and fears for her newly-conceived child. To cope, she turns to the dream world for insight, trekking backward and forward in time to converse with deceased family members and saints.

As Khoury explores Milia’s life and dreams, he points to the many paradoxes of living in the “holy land.” After all, this is the same soil where Cain murdered Abel. Its inhabitants inherit not just a rich cultural tradition, but also a dark and complicated legacy of madness. Mansour discovers that “. . . he had begun to loathe this land in which he lived. Can anyone truly live in a country saturated with legends and miracles and prophets? This is a country that drives anyone who lives here insane, he would think” (241). And Milia becomes increasingly obsessed with the fantastic tradition of fathers killing sons. Abraham planned to slaughter Isaac; God sacrificed Jesus; Milia’s grandfather Salim nearly murdered his only son with a thrown rock. Will Milia’s son be next?

Khoury definitely sounds notes of sincere frustration, bitterness, and disenchantment in this novel. However, that doesn’t stop him from luxuriating in the depictions of the region’s poetry, dress, and cookery. He describes kibbeh arnabiyyeh, a Levantine specialty, in rich detail: “One needed serious training to appreciate [the dish] fully. Tahini was cooked with seven different citrus fruits, onions were cut to resemble wings, the chick peas all but melted in the tahini mixture with its swirling colors from pale to brown. . . “ (118). This tonal ambiguity allows readers to experience at the linguistic level the same mental dilemma that Mansour, Milia, and many Levant-dwellers experience every day. Theirs is a land steeped in sanctity, but also in violence; a region consecrated by divine power, but defiled by human madness; in short, a land both loved and feared.

Before long, this same madness invades Mansour and Milia’s once-happy marriage. (Toward the beginning, it’s clear that Khoury is a true romantic: “But look at me – I love you without knowing you. I feel you, who you are, from inside, and that’s enough,” (24) Mansour waxes, wooing Milia.) But when his brother Amin is murdered in a border skirmish, Mansour insists on returning to Jaffa to take over the family business. Milia intuitively objects, sensing her child will be born into a maelstrom of bloodshed: “Milia’s nights now filled with oranges that looked like bombs,” Khoury tells us. “- the color red everywhere, covering faces and objects” (223).

Ostensibly apolitical, Milia doesn’t have the power of rational logic on her side. “Tayyib, tayyib,” Mansour chides, dismissing dreams as fickle excuses that give her “the freedom to interpret matters however she liked” (80). True, Milia lives her life “as though she were sleeping,” but isn’t it the prerogative of the dreamer to interpret the dream? And Milia undeniably discerns the truth through her visions, correctly predicting her Aunt Salma’s death and her ex-lover Najib’s infidelity.

Throughout the book Khoury treats narratives with extreme suspicion. By sympathizing with dreamers like Milia, he cautions against dominant, rational interpretations of reality. This becomes especially clear when Khoury re-narrates sections of the Bible, provocatively throwing its authoritative status into question. At one point Khoury even goes so far as to implicate a comparison between Milia and Christ:

“[Milia] wanted to say, None of this has anything to do with me. . . Lord, how different people become mixed inside me. I don’t know who I am anymore.

He was like that, too, said Tanyous the monk. As he went to the cross he did not feel that he was himself. He felt everyone becoming a part of him. He tried to keep his memories apart but he saw everything together. He became mother and father, the Sitt and the Sayyid, Lady and Lord and lamb. Because he was everything he could say nothing. If he could have talked, what would he have said? And if he did have things to say, who would have understood him? And if he found someone who did understand, who would believe?” (305).

Though far-fetched, the comparison is moving: what if prophets really did live this way, in a perpetual state of self-doubt that Biblical authors conveniently edited out? Milia certainly has much in common with the version of Jesus that Khoury imagines: like him, she frequently feels that she “can say nothing,” struggling to translate her dreams into language. To her, words are like “wraps that hid things. . . As if the bodies of the words veiled the meanings” (111). Through Milia’s struggle, Khoury implicates an ironic, frustrating linguistic paradox. Though words possess great potential to express beauty and meaning, they can also be used equally well to lie, inhibiting the truth instead of freeing it. In Milia’s experience, language is cloying, artificial, and useless. She knows calamity is coming, but what can she do? Putting her dreams into words seems to trap them and obscure their true meaning. And if she could tell about them, who would believe her?

In a nightmare come true, the book closes with a cathartic extended dream-sequence. Milia graphically envisions a dark future ahead: “. . . the smell of blood. Blood in the streets. Mansour stands before his workshop, which lies in ruins, the machinery soaked in blood and wet with severed limbs” (366). This is just one example of the hundreds of eerie dream-spectacles crowding the novel’s pages. Clearly, something is haunting this book – whether it’s the imminent 1948 Nakba, the general tragedy of the Levant, or the death of smaller stories in the face of predominating interpretations.

Fascinating, chimerical, and complex, Khoury’s As Though She Were Sleeping is a hymn to the Levant and its war-ravaged people. By re-envisioning Biblical events and testifying to the truth of dreams, Khoury questions the power of authoritative, ‘rational’ versions of events. His is an ode not just to Mansour and Milia, but to all people whose lives have been forgotten, and to all the small stories obliterated from history by larger, ruling narratives.

12 March 10 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

So, even though we’re in danger right now of becoming a blog that only writes about book prizes (or maybe I’m only feeling that way because the Best Translated Book Award has been on my mind for so long), we would be remiss if we didn’t make mention of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize Longlist:

  • Boris Akunin The Coronation (translated by Andrew Bromfield from the Russian) Weidenfeld & Nicolson
  • Ketil Bjørnstad To Music (Deborah Dawkin & Erik Skuggevik; Norwegian) Maia Press
  • Hassan Blasim The Madman of Freedom Square (Jonathan Wright; Arabic) Comma Press
  • Philippe Claudel Brodeck’s Report (John Cullen; French) MacLehose Press
  • Julia Franck The Blind Side of the Heart (Anthea Bell; German) Harvill Secker
  • Pietro Grossi Fists (Howard Curtis; Italian) Pushkin Press
  • Elias Khoury Yalo (Humphrey Davies; Arabic) MacLehose Press
  • Jonathan Littell The Kindly Ones (Charlotte Mandell; French) Chatto & Windus
  • Alain Mabanckou Broken Glass (Helen Stevenson; French) Serpent’s Tail
  • Javier Marías Your Face Tomorrow, Volume 3: Poison, Shadow and Farewell (Margaret Jull Costa; Spanish) Chatto & Windus
  • Yoko Ogawa The Housekeeper and the Professor (Stephen Snyder; Japanese) Harvill Secker
  • Claudia Piñeiro Thursday Night Widows (Miranda France; Spanish) Bitter Lemon Press
  • Sankar Chowringhee (Arunava Sinha; Bengali) Atlantic
  • Rafik Schami The Dark Side of Love (Anthea Bell; German) Arabia Books
  • Bahaa Taher Sunset Oasis (Humphrey Davies; Arabic) Sceptre

There are a few things to note: Although the bigger presses, or big name presses, are well represented, it’s interesting to note how much of the heavy lifting for translation in the UK is done by smaller independent presses (Comma, Maia, Bitter Lemon); there are three books (three!) that are translated from Arabic, which has to be some kind of record; and Humphrey Davies and Anthea Bell have the knack—two nominated titles each.

25 January 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments [1]

When I was in New York last week for sales calls and publicity meetings (which is why the blog has been so slow . . . But I’m back! And excited about life, the BTBAs, books, and everything, so expect an onslaught of material for the next few days . . . ), everyone was all abuzz about the fact that the New Yorker ran an enormous article on Arabic literature in translation. (Of course, they also used the ages-old “Found/Lost in Translation” title for which there NEEDS TO BE A MORATORIUM, but so be it.)

Claudia Roth Pierpont wrote this piece, which is basically a run down of recently published works of Arab literature. She doesn’t mention The Zafarani Files, which is a personal favorite and is on the BTBA longlist, but the titles she cites all sound rather interesting. I highly recommend reading the whole article, but in shorthand, blog-world fashion, here’s a rundown of the titles covered, with short quotes and links to buy the books at Idlewild:

  • Saddam City by Mahmoud Saeed, translated by Ahmad Sadri (Saqi Books)

For all the horror it details, this is a startlingly warm and humane book. Saeed, despite the incitements of his subject, does not aspire to the Kafkaesque—Kafka, it must be admitted, is among the most impossible of authors to emulate, along with García Márquez—but maintains a specificity of place and history (this happened in Basra, that happened in Mosul) and of the individuals who inhabit them. Set mostly in the run-up to the Iran-Iraq War, in the late nineteen-seventies, this slender novel tells of a mild-mannered Basra schoolteacher who, although cautiously apolitical, is whisked off one day for “a simple interrogation.” His subsequent experience in six levels of hell—six prisons in all—is exactingly described, but the long ordeal is mitigated, both for him and for the reader, by a dose of bitter humor, a share of personal good will, and the mutual trust that he discovers among the prisoners, a trust long since forfeited in the larger prison of the informer-ridden society outside.

  • I’jaam by Sinan Antoon, translated by the author and Rebecca C. Johnson (City Lights)

The title refers to the practice of adding dots—diacritical marks—to various letters of the Arabic alphabet, some of which are indistinguishable without these marks in place. An undotted sequence of letters may signify a number of different words; the correct translation can be determined only by context. The story’s intriguing premise is that a handwritten, undotted manuscript has been found in a file in Baghdad’s Interior Ministry, and a functionary assigned to add the necessary dots and make a transcription: the resulting manuscript forms the body of the book. The text turns out to be the work of a university student whose gift for political mockery got him sent to prison, where he wrote the manuscript—leaving out the dots to avoid further incrimination. Its uncertain readings cause the scribe to offer footnotes to such perplexing references as “the Ministry of Rupture and Inflammation” (“Could this be the Ministry of Culture and Information?”) and to such obvious errors as occur in the well-known song lyric that details how the nation’s leader moves from house to house and “fucks us into bed.” (“Note: the original lyrics read ‘tucks.’ ”)

  • Men in the Sun by Ghassan Kanafani, translated by Hilary Kilpatrick (Lynne Rienner)

“Men in the Sun” is, on the simplest level, a gripping tale that unfolds with Hitchcockian suspense as the reader is reduced to fearfully counting the minutes on the smuggler’s wristwatch. The prose is lean, swift, and—in Hilary Kilpatrick’s translation—filled with phrases of startling rightness: “The lorry, a small world, black as night, made its way across the desert like a heavy drop of oil on a burning sheet of tin”; or, even better, “The speedometer leapt forward like a white dog tied to a tent peg.” The realistic intensity of Kanafani’s world tends to conceal his stylistic ambitions: the intricacy with which he weaves together past and present, fact and delusion, and the alternating voices of his characters, each of whom is drawn with the rapid assurance of a charcoal sketch. But on a deeper level Kanafani’s work is about the desperation that drove these men to such lengths to regain work and dignity; it is about the longing—just emerging in the Palestinian public voice—for the moist earth and the olive trees of the villages left behind in 1948. Most painfully, it is about the awakening of self-recrimination for acquiescence in the loss, as in the thoughts of an old man who has been living “like a beggar” and decides to risk the journey.

  • Gate of the Sun by Elias Khoury, translated by Humphrey Davies (Archipelago/Picador)

A tremendously ambitious work, covering half a century of Palestinian history, it begins with maps of the region dotted with the names of old Palestinian villages, the way big Russian novels begin with family trees: here, through all the narrative advance and obliteration, is what you must keep steady in your mind. Set in a dilapidated hospital in the Shatila refugee camp, in Beirut, in the mid-nineties, the book’s many winding stories are told by a male Scheherazade, a fortyish Palestinian medic whose unceasing talk is intended to rouse a comatose old man, a resistance hero who spent decades sneaking over the Lebanese border into Israel, to carry out attacks that earned him the title the Wolf of Galilee. We do not see much of the attacks; instead, we see the warrior as a lover—not as the Wolf but simply as a man—paying secret visits to his wife, left behind on what has become Israeli land. As a result of these conjugal visits, the hero plants his children in Galilee, before going away again to fight to liberate them.

So great to see a piece like this. Getting info about any international lit in translation can be hard, but finding out about Arabic literature tends to be especially tricky. Hopefully I can write a lot more about the Arab publishing scene—and interesting untranslated titles—next month during the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair . . .

19 January 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

We’re into the home stretch now . . . Over the next five days we’ll be highlighting a book-a-day from the 25-title Best Translated Book of 2008 fiction longlist, leading up to the announcement of the 10 finalists. Click here for all previous write-ups.



Yalo by Elias Khoury, translated from the Arabic by Peter Theroux. (Lebanon, Archipelago)

In many ways, Yalo is the very definition of a “haunting novel.” For the images, the complex characters, the circular way the story is told, the reflections on torture and truth . . . It is a lasting book that will stay in reader’s minds long after they’ve finished it.

Although the novel is in no way “simple,” the plot itself is pretty straightforward. Yalo is on trial for rape. And is also suspected of being involved in a bombing plot. He’s a twenty-something-year-old veteran of the Lebanese civil war, who, following the war, absconded with some cash and a friend to Paris. His friend abandons him in France, leaving Yalo (who doesn’t speak a word of French) to wander the streets. Eventually he meets an arms dealer who proceeds to bring him back to Lebanon to serve as a guard for his house and family. And that’s where the trouble really begins.

Despite the sympathy the reader comes to feel for Yalo, he’s not necessarily a moral, upstanding person. After seeing people drive into the woods to have sex, he starts spying on them, occasionally robbing them, and once in a while raping the women. He gets involved with Shirin this way, a woman whom he claims to love, and who, depending on which version of the story you believe, has some interest in him as well.

Now on trial—thanks to the accusations of Shirin—he’s tortured in ways that are extremely disturbing, forced to write the entire story of his life, and broken, both mentally and physically.

Yalo’s story is interesting enough, but the way that it’s told in this novel is what really landed this book on the Best Translated Book of the Year fiction longlist.

Using some Faulknerian techniques, Khoury tells Yalo’s story in a looping and repetitive, subjective and uncertain, direct and poetic, fashion that is masterful and compelling. Siddhartha Deb has a nice overview of the book in his review for The Nation:

Yalo, the tenth novel by Lebanese writer Elias Khoury, is such a book. Published in Arabic in 2002 and now available in a translation by Peter Theroux, Yalo is set in 1993 and revolves around a single consciousness unable to make sense of itself or its surroundings. Its opening sentence is “Yalo did not understand what was happening,” and its closing line is “And if I don’t find the end of the story, how will I be able to write it?” In between lies a work that is both one story and several, perpetually revised under the torque of history, memory, desire, fear, understanding and loathing.

And Jeff Waxman’s review for Three Percent also points to some of the complexities of this novel:

Necessarily thicker than most of Khoury’s works, Yalo bears more scrutiny and re-readings than his other novels and in this literary masterpiece, translator Peter Theroux has achieved something exceptional. More than anything else, it is about the conflicts of identity and language in a region rife with upheaval and refugees. From his grandfather, Yalo inherited a complex culture, a legacy of statelessness found in the blending of Kurdish Islam and Lebanese Christianity. This blending of cultures includes an array of languages—Arabic, Syriac, Kurdish—all of which Theroux manages to convey without artifice and in impressive English. All of the alienation of tongues since the Tower of Babel is borne through startlingly clear prose. Yalo’s total estrangement may be the most successful of Khoury’s evocations and it is a constant theme in Yalo’s life. He is a haunted man and a man trapped in a crisis of intangible memory and identity. It’s more than the story of Yalo’s arrest, it’s more than the story of his imprisonment or his rapes and thefts. It’s the story of the entrapment of every character, from his lovesick mother to his grandfather the cohno, the priest. They are trapped as we are trapped—trapped in consciousness, trapped by mortality, trapped in a world that is not and cannot be objective.

Although a few of Khoury’s books had been translated into English at the time, it was Archipelago’s publication of Gate of the Sun that really launched him into the minds of American readers. Yalo is a different sort of book (and a bit shorter), and reinforces the opinion that Khoury is one of the great contemporary Arabic writers.

Khoury was able to tour in support of this book, and at least a couple of his performances were recorded and are available online. (C’mon publishers and booksellers, this seems like an obvious thing to do . . .) Specifically, his appearance at the Seattle Public Library is very interesting. And if you’re interested in learning more about Gate of the Sun, I’d highly recommend listening to his appearance on Bookworm. And the Washington City Paper has a really nice article about Peter Theroux, whose translation is impeccable.

14 November 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Siddhartha Deb reviews Elias Khoury’s Yalo for The Nation:

In Yalo, the tenth novel by Lebanese writer Elias Khoury, is such a book. Published in Arabic in 2002 and now available in a translation by Peter Theroux, Yalo is set in 1993 and revolves around a single consciousness unable to make sense of itself or its surroundings. Its opening sentence is “Yalo did not understand what was happening,” and its closing line is “And if I don’t find the end of the story, how will I be able to write it?” In between lies a work that is both one story and several, perpetually revised under the torque of history, memory, desire, fear, understanding and loathing.

8 July 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This is the fifteenth Reading the World 2008 title we’re covering. Write-ups of the other titles can be found here. And information about the Reading the World program—a special collaboration between publishers and independent booksellers to promote literature in translation throughout the month of June—is available at the official RTW website. There’s also a podcast discussing RTW available from World Books.

Although a couple of Elias Khoury’s other books were published in English a number of years ago, it was Archipelago’s edition of Gate of the Sun that really brought him to the attention of American readers. Frequently compared to One Thousand and One Nights, Gate of the Sun is a sprawling, epic novel. (And is now available in paperback from Picador.)

Yalo, on the other hand, is a different sort of book. From Jeff Waxman’s review:

Elias Khoury’s new novel, Yalo—out earlier this month from Archipelago—is a deep examination of truth and memory set against the gritty backdrop of post-war Lebanon. The book’s premise appears to be simple: in the first pages, it becomes apparent that the title character has been arrested for rape. Rape is a simple crime, with simple motives. In this story, however, nothing is as simple as it first appears. Yalo’s greatest crime may not be rape, Yalo may not be guilty, and Yalo may no longer even be Yalo.

Even better than this positive review is the opening of the book itself:

Yalo did not understand what was happening.

The young man stood before the interrogator and closed his eyes. He always closed his eyes when he faced danger, when he was along, and when his mother . . . On that day too, the morning of Thursday, December 22, 1993, he closed his eyes involuntarily.

Yalo did not understand why everything was white.

He saw the white interrogator, sitting behind a white table, the sun refracting on the glass window behind him, and his faced bathed in reflected light. All Yalo saw were hallos of light and a woman walking through the city streets tripping on her shadow.

Yalo closed his eyes for a moment, or so he thought. This young man with his knitted eyebrows and long tan face, his slender height, closed his eyes for a moment before reopening them. But here, in the Jounieh police station, he closed his eyes and saw crossed lines around two lips that moved as if whispering. He looked at his handcuffed wrists and felt that the sun that obscured the face of the interrogator struck him in the eyes, so he closed them.

The young man stood before the interrogator at ten o’clock that cold morning and saw the sun refracted on the window, shining on the white head of the man whose mouth opened with questions. Yalo closed his eyes.

Yalo did not understand what the interrogator was shouting about.

There’s also an interview conducted by Bill Marx with Elias Khoury on the PRI’s World Books webpage.

7 February 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week we posted two new reviews, both of titles published by Archipelago. The first is a review by E.J. of The Waitress Was New by Dominique Fabre. (Fabre will be touring throughout the U.S. starting later this month. All the current dates can be found at Archipelago’s site.)

Jeff Waxman gives Yalo by Elias Khoury some serious praise in his review of this title, which is also just out from Archipelago. Jeff works at Seminary Co-op in Chicago, and will hopefully be a regular reviewer for us.

And speaking of which, if there are any booksellers—or other literary readers in general—interested in reviewing works in translation for us, please feel free to contact me at chad.post at rochester dot edu.

7 February 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Elias Khoury’s new novel, Yalo—out earlier this month from Archipelago—is a deep examination of truth and memory set against the gritty backdrop of post-war Lebanon. The book’s premise appears to be simple: in the first pages, it becomes apparent that the title character has been arrested for rape. Rape is a simple crime, with simple motives. In this story, however, nothing is as simple as it first appears. Yalo’s greatest crime may not be rape, Yalo may not be guilty, and Yalo may no longer even be Yalo.

In an overtly political framing, Khoury not only delves into his usual themes of identity and dislocation, but he condemns the brutal Lebanese justice system and exposes the international preference for tortured convenience over truth. The scene in which Yalo is forced to stand waist deep in a burlap sack with an angry cat chewing his genitals. will haunt me for as long as memory. Yalo is a political novel, but not merely that. It is philosophical and so much more. It’s almost too much.

Necessarily thicker than most of Khoury’s works, Yalo bears more scrutiny and re-readings than his other novels and in this literary masterpiece, translator Peter Theroux has achieved something exceptional. More than anything else, it is about the conflicts of identity and language in a region rife with upheaval and refugees. From his grandfather, Yalo inherited a complex culture, a legacy of statelessness found in the blending of Kurdish Islam and Lebanese Christianity. This blending of cultures includes an array of languages—Arabic, Syriac, Kurdish—all of which Theroux manages to convey without artifice and in impressive English. All of the alienation of tongues since the Tower of Babel is borne through startlingly clear prose. Yalo’s total estrangement may be the most successful of Khoury’s evocations and it is a constant theme in Yalo’s life. He is a haunted man and a man trapped in a crisis of intangible memory and identity. It’s more than the story of Yalo’s arrest, it’s more than the story of his imprisonment or his rapes and thefts. It’s the story of the entrapment of every character, from his lovesick mother to his grandfather the cohno, the priest. They are trapped as we are trapped—trapped in consciousness, trapped by mortality, trapped in a world that is not and cannot be objective.

Though part of an Arabic literary tradition that includes Naguib Mahfouz and Abdul Rahman Munif, the novel (in general) and this novel, are deeply Western. Influences of Western writers like Kafka, Beckett, and Nabokov are felt in the inhumanity of the state, the untenability of Yalo’s position and in his forced examination of himself and his conduct. Khoury’s play with time is also Western, but hey, the world is getting smaller. This story sprawls and turns in on itself, creeping toward a distillation and then an even greater distillation—first toward a personal truth and then a rejection of the objective altogether This revisiting of events is hardly unique and many other writers have engaged in opaque games with memory and with perspective. Khoury, however, refreshes the play. No memory can be trusted in a single-person narrative in which the narrator himself is unsure, unstable, and undergoing torture. Is he a rapist? Is he a terrorist? Is he a thief? Yes, Yalo answers, but I am no longer Yalo.

Before I was halfway through the story, I was violently engaged. I filthily chewed through the last pages with stuttering eyes and trembling hands. I hardly exaggerate—great talent is rare and great realizations rarer. This novel has both. Further praise must go to Archipelago for introducing it in such a gorgeous edition; like many of their recent books, it appeared in an understated hardcover that improves immeasurably on the garish Picador paperbacks of Khoury’s works that appeared late last year. Yalo is a tremendous new book and I look forward to more Khoury/Theroux collaborations.

Yalo
By Elias Khoury
Translated from the Arabic by Peter Theroux
Archipelago Books
260 pgs, $25.00

15 January 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

One of our favorite presses, Archipelago’s been getting a lot of good attention for a couple of their recent titles: Yalo by Elias Khoury and Autonauts of the Cosmoroute by Julio Cortazar.

Specifically, the Khoury book received a great review by Laila Lalami in this weekend’s L.A. Times:

bq, With Yalo, Khoury returns to Beirut in the 1980s with a book that is a series of jagged narratives shifting in time, location and point of view. The novel gives us, like pieces of a puzzle, the story of Daniel Jal’u, nicknamed Yalo. He is a soldier who, after 10 years spent on one of the many sides of Lebanon’s sectarian civil war, gradually becomes a deserter, a thief, a vagabond in Paris, a night watchman in Beirut, a traitor to his benefactor, an arms smuggler, a voyeur and eventually a rapist. Then Yalo falls in love with the young Shirin, and that single act of affection ends in his capture; she turns him in to the police and accuses him of rape. [. . .]

And yet, Khoury’s writing style departs from the typically realist modes of his peers and more closely resembles the stream of consciousness of a writer like William Faulkner. He favors repetition as a stylistic device, and the endings of his stories often circle back to their beginnings. Point of view in his novels doesn’t so much change as dart from one character to another. His experimentation with narrative style can be a bit challenging, but it certainly makes for a unique perspective in Arab letters.

I’m a sucker for anything Faulknerian, but besides that this sounds like a really interesting book. (One that we will be reviewing in the very near future.)

30 July 07 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Interesting article in The Guardian (one of the best papers for arts and books coverage, in my opinion) on Elias Khoury and his fears about chaos in Lebanon.

Khoury is most well-known here for Gate of the Sun, which Archipelago Books published to great acclaim. (The paperback edition —a RTW 2007 book—is now available from Picador.)

Here’s a brief description of the book:

Khoury says his aim in Gate of the Sun was to write a great love story. As Dr Khaleel, a paramedic in the makeshift Galilee hospital in Beirut’s Shatila refugee camp, keeps vigil by the bedside of Yunis, a comatose Palestinian resistance fighter of his father’s generation, he tells stories from the fighter’s life, and his own, like a Sheherazade trying to stave off death. Soon after 1948, when the Lebanon-Israel border was still porous, Yunis would meet his wife Naheeleh in the cave in Galilee that gives the novel its title. Along with everyday tales of flight and dispossession, the book traces the enmeshed histories of Lebanon and Palestine, from the 1930s to the 1990s, centring on the 1982 massacres in the Sabra and Shatila camps.

Yalo, a new novel by Khoury is forthcoming from Archipelago Books. And hopefully an excerpt will be available online soon . . .

....
I Called Him Necktie
I Called Him Necktie by Milena Michiko Flašar
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

While looking back at an episode in his life, twenty-year-old Taguchi Hiro remembers what his friend Kumamoto Akira said about poetry.

Its perfection arises precisely from its imperfection . . . . I have an image in my head. I see. . .

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Return to Killybegs
Return to Killybegs by Sorj Chalandon
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

The central concern of Sorj Chalandon’s novel Return to Killybegs appears to be explaining how a person of staunch political activism can be lead to betray his cause, his country, his people. Truth be told, the real theme of the. . .

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The Last Days
The Last Days by Laurent Seksik
Reviewed by Peter Biellp

Spoiler alert: acclaimed writer Stefan Zweig and his wife Lotte kill themselves at the end of Lauren Seksik’s 2010 novel, The Last Days.

It’s hard to avoid spoiling this mystery. Zweig’s suicide actually happened, in Brazil in 1942, and since then. . .

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Selected Stories
Selected Stories by Kjell Askildsen
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

To call Kjell Askildsen’s style sparse or terse would be to understate just how far he pushes his prose. Almost nothing is explained, elaborated on. In simple sentences, events occur, words are exchanged, narrators have brief thoughts. As often as. . .

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Letter from an Unknown Woman and Other Stories
Letter from an Unknown Woman and Other Stories by Stefan Zweig
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

After a mysterious woman confesses to an author simply known as “R” that she has loved him since she was a teenager, she offers the following explanation: “There is nothing on earth like the love of a child that passes. . .

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Colorless Tsukuru and His Years of Pilgrimage
Colorless Tsukuru and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
Reviewed by Will Eells

Floating around the internet amid the hoopla of a new Haruki Murakami release, you may have come across a certain Murakami Bingo courtesy of Grant Snider. It is exactly what it sounds like, and it’s funny because it’s true,. . .

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The Matiushin Case
The Matiushin Case by Oleg Pavlov
Reviewed by Brandy Harrison

The publisher’s blurb for Oleg Pavlov’s The Matiushin Case promises the prospective reader “a Crime and Punishment for today,” the sort of comparison that is almost always guaranteed to do a disservice to both the legendary dead and the ambitious. . .

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