The Night Counter, by Alia Yunis. Published 2009 by Shaye Areheart Books. Literary fiction.
I picked up The Night Counter several months ago, more or less on impulse, because I had recently finished Rabih Alameddine's The Hakawati, about the stories and secrets of a large and scattered Lebanese family and I was looking for more of the same. Lighter and less literary than The Hakawati, The Night Counter is a great read.
The Night Counter follows the days and nights of 85 year old Fatimah Abdullah, who has left her husband in Detroit and gone to live with her actor grandson Amir in Los Angeles. Fatimah has regular visitations with Scheherazade, the mythical spinner of stories; when the novel opens, Fatimah is on night 992 of stories and believes she will die on night 1,001.
In the mean time, Alia Yunis's warm and funny narrative takes the reader all over the country and all over the world as Scheherazade visits Fatimah's large, far-flung family. Amir is trying to work out his acting career, his love life and his contentious relationship with his hippie mother Soraya. Pretty Texan Dina, one of Fatimah's many grandchildren, goes to Beirut on a school-sponsored trip ostensibly to study Lebanese law but really to follow handsome Jamal and escape her pushy hometown boyfriend Jake. Fatimah's husband Ibrahim sits lonely in Detroit, missing his wife and reminiscing about their love story. Their daughter Laila is recovering from cancer while taking care of her aging father and her own brood of boys. And Fatimah spends her days attending Arab funerals, talking to herself and bemoaning the absence of her family. But it's Fatimah's granddaughter Decimal née Aisha, teenaged, troubled and pregnant, who shows up on Amir and Fatimah's doorstep out of the blue, who brings Fatimah unexpected happiness at the end of her life.
The Night Counter is a sweet and well-crafted light read. I found it to be more approachable than the (for me) over-written Hakawati and I loved all the characters and their stories. I couldn't even begin to pick a favorite. Well, I mean, of course Fatimah is my favorite character and I loved watching her thorny-but-loving relationship with Amir in the present and her own love stories with her two husbands in the past. Bittersweet and lovely, its stories are immersing and its spell enchanting. Readers of both light and literary fiction will delight in this lovely book.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.