the hakawati by rabih alameddine

“reality never meets our wants, and adjusting both is why we tell stories.”    i LOVE this book.   pam suggested i read it when i was talking to her about curating “more stories” and it influenced the way i thought about the exhibition immensely.    “hakawati” is arabic for “storyteller.”   alameddine is a brilliant one.    the novel is a frame tale – stories within a story – like “the decameron,” “the canterbury tales” or “one thousand and one nights.”

the frame is the story of a man returning to beirut from los angeles to be with his father and family as his father dies.    the stories of his family, contemporary and historic, are knit with tales from the old testament and koran, arabian myths and countless known and unknown sources.    alameddine’s version of the myth of fatima and legend of the slave king baybars weave from beginning to end of the novel.  the ancient stories wrap-around and in-and-out of one another and illuminate the contemporary accounts.   by the end of the novel we’re back at the reason for the story – the relationship of the son and father.

uncle jihad used to say that what happens is of little significance compared with the stories we tell ourselves about what happens.  events matter little, only stories of those events affect us.  my father and i may have shared numerous experiences, but, as i was constantly finding out, we rarely shared their stories; we didn’t know how to listen to one another.

though it utilizes an ancient form, the novel is contemporary.    and funny.    and touching.   poetic.   and smart.   immediately and completely engrossing.    damn near a perfect read.

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