is a big, giant treat of a book, which is not to
say that it's an easy read, or that it isn't packed with more meaty fare closer
to the bone. Rabih Alameddine shines as a storyteller and a novelist, and
nowhere are the distinctions between the two vocations more evident than in this
lovely, captivating tome. As a storyteller, Alameddine dazzles us with bejeweled
adventure stories of lust and love, murder, scandal, and war. As a novelist, he
crafts a complex structure, shaping subtle mirrors between the flights of fancy
and the central story of a family in war-torn Beirut, gently shifting the
perspective until, like a mosaic, the tiny pieces begin to take shape, and the
real picture of the novel emerges.
Like a merry-making band of magic carpets, the folk tales and adventure stories
woven into the central story of a Lebanese family...
Beyond the Book
A Thousand and One Nights
Once upon a time, not terribly long ago, hakawatis, or storytellers, were
commonplace fixtures on Middle Eastern streets. As coffee-drinking gained
popularity in Ottoman times, the hakawatis moved from the streets into the
coffee houses. Hakawatis were paid by the owners of the coffee houses to draw
customers, and the best could also expect tips from their audience. Hakawatis
were known for their dramatic performances, and were consummate entertainers.
The rise of radio and television brought the demise of this ancient Arab
tradition of public storytelling, and hakawatis all but disappeared from the
Middle East by the 1970's.
Listen to an NPR interview with the last full-time hakawati in the Syrian
capital of Damascus....