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The Hakawati

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The Hakawati Cover

ISBN13: 9780307266798
ISBN10: 0307266796
Condition: Standard
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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

An astonishingly inventive, wonderfully exuberant novel that takes us from the shimmering dunes of ancient Egypt to the war-torn streets of twenty-first-century Lebanon.

In 2003, Osama al-Kharrat returns to Beirut after many years in America to stand vigil at his father's deathbed. The city is a shell of the Beirut Osama remembers, but he and his friends and family take solace in the things that have always sustained them: gossip, laughter, and, above all, stories.

Osama's grandfather was a hakawati, or storyteller, and his bewitching stories — of his arrival in Lebanon, an orphan of the Turkish wars, and of how he earned the name al-Kharrat, the fibster — are interwoven with classic tales of the Middle East, stunningly reimagined. Here are Abraham and Isaac; Ishmael, father of the Arab tribes; the ancient, fabled Fatima; and Baybars, the slave prince who vanquished the Crusaders. Here, too, are contemporary Lebanese whose stories tell a larger, heartbreaking tale of seemingly endless war — and of survival.

Like a true hakawati, Rabih Alameddine has given us an Arabian Nights for this century — a funny, captivating novel that enchants and dazzles from its very first lines: "Listen. Let me take you on a journey beyond imagining. Let me tell you a story."

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." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Review:

"Reality never meets our wants, and adjusting both is why we tell stories," observes a character in Rabih Alameddine's absolutely original novel "The Hakawati." Hakawati comes from the Arabic verb "haka," meaning to tell, relate, report, give an account of; to imitate, copy; to resemble. A hakawati is someone who does all those things.

Perhaps the major difference between a storyteller... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review)

Review:

"Here is absolute beauty. One of the finest novels I've read in years. To explain why this book is so wonderful and why Alameddine is so important would take a book. Fortunately you have that very book in your hands." Junot Diaz, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Review:

"Opulent and picaresque...[A] grand saga....Alameddine, himself a brilliant hakawati, exuberantly reclaims and celebrates the art of wisdom of the war-torn Middle East in this stupendous, ameliorating, many-chambered palace of a novel." Booklist (Starred Review)

Review:

"[A] one-of-a-kind novel....No one interested in boundary-defying fiction will want to miss Alameddine's high-wire act. A dizzying, prodigal display of storytelling overabundance." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)

Review:

"[A] tour de force that interweaves at least five separate narratives into an exquisite tapestry....This magical novel is epic in proportion and will enchant readers everywhere. Recommended." Library Journal (Starred Review)

Review:

"Alameddine should be commended for the chances he takes, and he certainly has prodigious skills that should not be discounted. But The Hakawati could have used some editorial tightening." The San Francisco Chronicle

Review:

"[A] wildly imaginative patchwork of tales....Though reading such a chaotic book proves exhausting — blame the author's desultory technique and dizzying array of characters — several stories both charm and amuse." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Review:

"This book covers ambitious terrain, and the author succeeds in doing what he has proposed. In the process, Alameddine proves that he's the hakawati for our times." Rocky Mountain News

Synopsis:

Alameddine's astonishingly inventive, wonderfully exuberant novel takes readers from the shimmering dunes of ancient Egypt to the war-torn streets of 21-century Lebanon. The Hakawati is a modern Arabian Nights — a funny, captivating novel that enchants and dazzles.

About the Author

Rabih Alameddine is the author of Koolaids, The Perv, and I, the Divine. He divides his time between San Francisco and Beirut.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 1 comment:

dematteo, April 24, 2008 (view all comments by dematteo)
Rabih Alameddine’s new novel, "The Hakawati," is a sprawling, delicious panoply of over-the-top tales of love, sex, murder, heroism, magic, loss, triumph, skulduggery, noblesse, repentance, lies, redemption, loyalty, curses, and just about everything else, all plaited into a set of parallel narratives which augment and illuminate each other. It is a masterful and startling accomplishment, a sort of literary maqam that twists and turns on recurrent themes and characters. The reader initially wonders how to relate all these seemingly unrelated stories, but quickly notices with growing awareness how they are really jazz riffs on single themes, embellishments that sear those themes into our consciousness so that we can’t get them out of our heads.

This is not the first time that Alameddine has used such literary structure. His first novel, "Koolaids," interlaced two parallel narratives, the worst years of the AIDS crisis and the civil war in Lebanon. There, as in "The Hakawati," the narratives resonated one with the other. And his second novel, "I, the Divine," an ingenious work all in first chapters of his narrator’s never-to-be-completed memoir, managed to give us multiple perspectives on events told by a single character, much as "The Hakawati" gives us multiple views of universal themes that echo through very different tales. But whereas the two earlier works had some rough edges and unpolished facets, "The Hakawati" is a perfect gem, burnished, intricate, complex, and with every feature serving to magnify its brilliance and dazzle. Here is a writer who has grown into his initial promise, perhaps beyond it.

It is easy to fall in love with the tales themselves; they are both currently relevant and timeless as well as entirely engrossing. The more discerning reader will also delight in the language of this book. Like other writers using English as a second language for their literary medium (Conrad and Nabokov come to mind), Alameddine is almost preternaturally aware of its sound and cadence, its semantic subtleties, its echos and reverberations of meanings. He is clearly besotted with English, and we follow him in a vertiginous trance like a whirling dervish, lost in the ecstasy of the moment. Alameddine is nothing short, it seems, of a literary magician, pulling our emotions out of his hat, our dreams from out his sleeve, and showing them to us in a way that forces us to see them anew. This novel is a masterpiece, unlike anything I’ve ever read before or ever hope to read again.
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(12 of 14 readers found this comment helpful)

Product Details

ISBN:
9780307266798
Author:
Alameddine, Rabih
Publisher:
Knopf Publishing Group
Subject:
Middle East
Subject:
General
Subject:
Storytellers.
Subject:
General Fiction
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Edition Number:
2008
Publication Date:
20080431
Binding:
HARDCOVER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
528
Dimensions:
9.52x6.52x1.68 in. 1.91 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

The Hakawati Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$9.95 In Stock
Product details 528 pages Random House - English 9780307266798 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "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." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "Here is absolute beauty. One of the finest novels I've read in years. To explain why this book is so wonderful and why Alameddine is so important would take a book. Fortunately you have that very book in your hands."
"Review" by , "Opulent and picaresque...[A] grand saga....Alameddine, himself a brilliant hakawati, exuberantly reclaims and celebrates the art of wisdom of the war-torn Middle East in this stupendous, ameliorating, many-chambered palace of a novel."
"Review" by , "[A] one-of-a-kind novel....No one interested in boundary-defying fiction will want to miss Alameddine's high-wire act. A dizzying, prodigal display of storytelling overabundance."
"Review" by , "[A] tour de force that interweaves at least five separate narratives into an exquisite tapestry....This magical novel is epic in proportion and will enchant readers everywhere. Recommended."
"Review" by , "Alameddine should be commended for the chances he takes, and he certainly has prodigious skills that should not be discounted. But The Hakawati could have used some editorial tightening."
"Review" by , "[A] wildly imaginative patchwork of tales....Though reading such a chaotic book proves exhausting — blame the author's desultory technique and dizzying array of characters — several stories both charm and amuse."
"Review" by , "This book covers ambitious terrain, and the author succeeds in doing what he has proposed. In the process, Alameddine proves that he's the hakawati for our times."
"Synopsis" by , Alameddine's astonishingly inventive, wonderfully exuberant novel takes readers from the shimmering dunes of ancient Egypt to the war-torn streets of 21-century Lebanon. The Hakawati is a modern Arabian Nights — a funny, captivating novel that enchants and dazzles.
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