Summary and book reviews of The Wrong End of the Telescope by Rabih Alameddine

The Wrong End of the Telescope

by Rabih Alameddine

The Wrong End of the Telescope by Rabih Alameddine X
The Wrong End of the Telescope by Rabih Alameddine
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     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Sep 2021, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Cook
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About this Book

Book Summary

By National Book Award and the National Book Critics' Circle Award finalist for An Unnecessary Woman, Rabih Alameddine, comes a transporting new novel about an Arab American trans woman's journey among Syrian refugees on Lesbos island.

Mina Simpson, a Lebanese doctor, arrives at the infamous Moria refugee camp on Lesbos, Greece, after being urgently summoned for help by her friend who runs an NGO there. Alienated from her family except for her beloved brother, Mina has avoided being so close to her homeland for decades. But with a week off work and apart from her wife of thirty years, Mina hopes to accomplish something meaningful, among the abundance of Western volunteers who pose for selfies with beached dinghies and the camp's children. Soon, a boat crosses bringing Sumaiya, a fiercely resolute Syrian matriarch with terminal liver cancer. Determined to protect her children and husband at all costs, Sumaiya refuses to alert her family to her diagnosis. Bonded together by Sumaiya's secret, a deep connection sparks between the two women, and as Mina prepares a course of treatment with the limited resources on hand, she confronts the circumstances of the migrants' displacement, as well as her own constraints in helping them.

Not since the inimitable Aaliya of An Unnecessary Woman has Rabih Alameddine conjured such a winsome heroine to lead us to one of the most wrenching conflicts of our time. Cunningly weaving in stories of other refugees into Mina's singular own, The Wrong End of the Telescope is a bedazzling tapestry of both tragic and amusing portraits of indomitable spirits facing a humanitarian crisis.

The Little Rascals Go to Camp

Sumaiya and her family rode the bus while Emma, Rodrigo, and I followed in the car. Luckily, we'd decided not to take my Opel that morning. Emma's rental Honda was much more comfortable. In the back seat, I suddenly felt exhausted and sluggish. Drowsiness overwhelmed me. Talking to me through the rearview mirror, Emma suggested that I close my eyes for a bit. It would be at least half an hour before we reached Moria. I fell asleep before she finished her sentence.

I dreamt of my mother, of my father, of sitting before them as an adult, all of us underwater in the Mediterranean, something like that, everything fleeting and hollow. I heard strange knocking noises, as if I were in an aquarium with some child knocking on the glass, my head echoing back. And indeed it was a child who woke me—or rather five of them—four boys and a little girl, all in clothes that had seen better days if they'd ever had a good one. The kids stepped back from the car as ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Concerned — as its title implies — with perspective, The Wrong End of the Telescope suggests that the grace and kindness people can show themselves and each other is not necessarily facilitated by understanding, and that it may even sometimes be best to resist the impulse to possess knowledge of the other, or of the mystery of life. With this book, Alameddine gives us a funny and sad tale that caters to no particular audience, that no one asked for, and that is all the more generous for it...continued

Full Review (738 words).

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(Reviewed by Elisabeth Cook).

Media Reviews

BookPage
A shape-shifting kaleidoscope, a collection of moments—funny, devastating, absurd—that bear witness to the violence of war and displacement without sensationalizing it...The Wrong End of the Telescope is a gorgeously written, darkly funny and refreshingly queer witness to that seeking.

Shelf Awareness
With enormous generosity and knowing humor…The Wrong End of the Telescope is an unequivocal masterpiece.

Los Angeles Times
[A] peculiar novel, intentionally — a prismatic, sui generis story that's unafraid of humor while addressing a humanitarian crisis, threading a needle between that urge to witness and the recognition that doing so may be pointless...Blind optimism and pat solutions are for other novels. The prevailing mood here is resignation, but of a gimlet-eyed sort, rooted in an unwillingness to give up entirely. The answer is somewhere, but not exclusively in a book.

New York Times
[S]pectacular...Alameddine's irreverent prose evokes the old master storytellers from my own Middle Eastern home, their observations toothy and full of wit, returning always to human absurdity...deeply poignant.

Booklist
Mina is a riveting narrator, struggling to find her footing even when the weight of her identity is crushing…A kaleidoscopic view of the many facets of the refugee crisis.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
A Lebanese doctor travels to the island of Lesbos to help refugees and confront her past in the profound and wonderful latest from Alameddine...a wise, deeply moving story that can still locate humor in the pit of hell...This is a triumph.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
[N]o one writes fiction that is more naturally an extension of lived life than this master storyteller. Engaging and unsettling in equal measure.

Library Journal (starred review)
The great strength of this latest novel from National Book Award finalist Alameddine lies in how it deftly combines the biographical with the historical; the small, more personal moments often carry the most weight. A remarkable, surprisingly intimate tale of human connection in the midst of disaster.

Author Blurb Eileen Myles
The Wrong End of the Telescope is the best kind of prose. Lines break out like poetry and the story muscles on, telling. The setting is real history which I'm hungry for and Rabih Alameddine queers it handsomely with all kinds of love and a feeling that existence is pure experience, not language at all and the shape of this book, right up to the end, is a becoming.

Author Blurb Susan Stryker, author of Transgender History: The Roots of Today's Revolution
The incomparable Rabih Alameddine's latest novel shows sly wit, poetic turns of phrase, and the slow-burning outrage at the ongoing Mediterranean refugee crisis―but I particularly love his understated handling of Mina, the novel's transgender narrator. Her identity is not a battlefield for the culture wars, just a refreshingly unproblematic perspective from which a story unfolds.

Author Blurb Rebecca Makkai, author of The Great Believers
Rabih Alameddine is a master of both the intimate and the global — and The Wrong End of the Telescope finds him at the top of his craft. A story of rescue, identity, deracination, and connection, this novel is timely and urgent and a lot of fun.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

The Real-Life Work of Rabih Alameddine

Rabih Alameddine author photoIn The Wrong End of the Telescope, Rabih Alameddine creates a character that appears to be a stand-in for himself, described from the perspective of the novel's narrator, Mina. Mina paints the character as a friend of hers who has written essays about his experiences with refugees as well as fiction. The author's real-life work parallels this description, and several comparisons can be drawn between his writing career and that of the writer in the story.

After having spotted the Alameddine-like character in the novel, Mina's friend Emma tells her, "You sent me one of his books for Christmas, unreadable, worst gift ever. Why would I care about an old woman who doesn't leave her apartment? Didn't make any sense to me. That's not a story, ...

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