Tuesday, December 29, 2009

REVIEW: The Hakawati, by Rabih Alameddine

The Hakawati, by Rabih Alameddine. Published 2008 by Anchor Books/Random House. Literary Fiction.

I picked up The Hakawati at my local indie bookstore because it looked the like the kind of book I usually like- exotic, vaguely literary, and different. It's about a Lebanese family whose paterfamilias is dying, and about the culture of stories and storytelling surrounding the family and the mixed Arab, Armenian and Druze culture they come from.

Osama al-Kharrat, a college student, returns to Beirut to sit by his father's deathbed; as he confronts various relatives and friends, the narrative cycles through the generations with stories both real and imagined. We hear love stories and coming of age tales, sibling rivalries, successes and disappointments, stories of parents and children, husbands and wives, as well as lengthy mythologies and folk tales of legendary kings, demons and assorted sprites and spirits. Alameddine does a nice job of keeping it all straight and making all these tangents and stories and characters come together.

It's a dizzying read, and while I can't say it's a favorite, I did enjoy it and I think it would appeal to readers with a taste for the exotic and the flamboyant. It's a fairly long book, and alternates between modern and fantastic settings; each interlude is relatively lengthy which gives the reader time to become engrossed in the goings-on. The stories that run through the book are also very detailed and elaborate so the reader can really get drawn into Alameddine's tales. There were times it dragged a little for me but in general I enjoyed being swept along in Alameddine's swirling storytelling and bittersweet family struggles. It's a captivating, entertaining read for the hammock or for a cold winter's night.

Rating: BEACH

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.