Friday, June 13, 2008

The Hakawati – by Rabih Alameddine

I bought “The Hakawati” two months ago after reading a write up on it in The Wall Street Journal. I read it during my lunch hour at work and it has been an enjoyable two months ~ I’m going to miss this book.

A hakawati is a middle eastern story teller and oh, what tales we are told! The foundation of the book is the story of Osama al-Kharrat and his struggle to come to terms with in relationship with his father before his father passes away. We learn about Osama’s siblings, parents and antecedents. Peppered in between Osama’s struggle are stories of old. We are treated to stories of Fatima and her battle with the jinn Afreet-Jehanam and their subsequent and passionate love affair, of Fatima’s son Shams and the son of the emir Layl, of Baybars, of Taboush, of Abraham, and my two favorites Othman and his beautiful, strong, wise and crafty wife Layla.

I’m slowly gaining a little insight into the Korean culture through all those k-dramas I watch. The Korean culture is different and charming and sweet. “The Hakawati” offered me, after “The Red Tent” and “The Kite Runner”, some tiny insight into the Middle Eastern culture; one that is magical and real and lusty. Some of it was a little weird for me, but it didn't ruin in the telling.

I barely even realized that a tapestry that was being woven around me. I got confused trying to remember all of Osama’s family, who fathered whom, which wife was feuding with which other one’s aunt. It was told in sort of a conversational style that pulled me right in, felt real and kept me invested. But by the end, after all the magical tales were told, I realized that through the stories I grew to love, alongside the characters for whom I supported and ached, the thread of the hakawati continued through the ages. The thread uniting grandfathers and fathers and sons and nephews and cousins and sisters and mothers and aunts and grandmothers. The thread bringing life to their stories and richness to ours. Osama realizes it too, he understands in the end that he really does know his father and he will enjoy telling the story of his father for many years to come.

I liked it, a little weird, but yeah, I liked it. I think I will read it again; high marks. It is recommended.


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