Synopses & Reviews
A powerful novel about trauma and forgiveness, from the winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction.
During the violence and chaos of the Lebanese Civil War, a car pulls up to a roadblock on a narrow side street in Beirut. After a brief and confused exchange, several rounds of bullets are fired into the car, killing everyone inside except for a small boy of four or five. The boy is taken to the hospital, adopted by one of the assassins, and raised in a new family. "My father used to kidnap and kill people ..." begins this haunting tale of a child who was raised by the murderer of his real family. The narrator of doesn't shy away from the horrible truth of his murderous father--instead he confronts his troubled upbringing and seeks to understand the distortions and complexities of his memories, his war-torn country, and the quiet war that rages inside of him.
Publisher Weekly Reviews
One day in 1976, Maroun, the narrator of this moving short novel from Lebanese author Jaber, is shot and wounded on the demarcation line that divides Beirut. A small child at the time, Maroun loses one family but gains another. "My father used to kidnap people and kill them," Maroun says in the arresting opening sentence about the man who adopts him. This new father has been committing these crimes ever since the murder of his little boy, whose bloody corpse with its tattered clothes was "dumped on the road between the Museum and the Hotel-Dieu." Maroun grows up in a Beirut where war is almost a constant between 1976 and 1990. His untrustworthy memory and his place in his new family are ever-present concerns in a tortured tale that reveals the amazing ability of people to carve normality out of the most extreme and brutal conditions. Jaber sketches many memorable characters, none more unforgettable than his forever unsettled narrator. Publishers Weekly
"Jaber shares a delight in stories that defy conventional ideas about identity and the relations between East and West." The New York Review of Books
"This elegy for a lost Beirut, past and future, this novel was carrying me to a place I had never been before."
Alan Cheuse, NPR
A young boy is adopted by the man who gunned down his family in this searing novel about the Lebanese civil war. Maroun was 4 or 5 years old when his family's car was stopped at the demarcation line dividing East and West Beirut. The men who stopped the car opened fire, and the boy was the only survivor. All of this is recounted within the first 20 pages of the new novel by Jaber (The Mehlis Report, 2013, etc.), winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction. It's what happens next that consumes the bulk of this slim volume. Maroun was adopted by one of those men who had recently lost a son of the same age to the wartime violence. Now a young man, Maroun has only just discovered the truth about his origins, which his brother confesses to him while they wait for their father to endure surgery. Maroun had grown up as one of the family's own. Over the years, he'd noticed the strange looks that his mother and sisters would periodically give him, but that had been the extent of his knowledge. Now, he retraces his early memories and suspicions in an attempt to come to terms with his own identity. He's desperate to parse his actual childhood from an imagined one. After describing one early memory, he asks, "Am I remembering it or imagining it? And how can I tell the difference? Memory's a massive reservoir, it's a deep well, it's got layers upon layers upon layers--what does it bury, and what doesn't it?" Jaber's narrative follows the obsessive circuit of Maroun's thoughts, which is circular and repetitive, doubling back on itself out of doubt and uncertainty. Still, "I'm trying," he says, "to the best of my ability, to stick to a logical order. It's important to have some command over the order of things: that's important." Maroun's voice has the compulsive urgency of someone who has long kept silent and cannot stop speaking now that he has finally begun. He's hyperarticulate in a panicked sort of way, but this turns out to be unfortunate, since it obscures other, more delicate questions. Did he blame his father for what he'd done? Did he blame his siblings, his mother? As brave and as brutal as Jaber's novel is, it somehow fails to comprehend the scope of its own magnitude. A novel that explores questions of identity, memory, and blame and leaves many of those questions unanswered. Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
The author of eighteen novels, the Lebanese writer Rabee Jaber was born in Beirut in 1972. He is the editor of Afaaq, the weekly cultural supplement of Al-Hayat, the daily pan-Arab newspaper.