Wednesday, March 26, 2008
A Tapestry of Wonder
Did you ever read a book so good that you had an actual physical reaction to something you read? Perhaps you were startled into a gasp of surprise when the killer was revealed. Maybe you shed a tear of joy when the good guys finally won, or your heart pounded when things weren't going so well. Or maybe, just maybe, if the story was good enough you dropped all of your barriers and immersed yourself in the world on the page, and suddenly this was no longer a book that you were reading but a story that you were living.
This doesn't happen very often any more. More often than not, even if it's a delightful book that I enjoy reading, I don't fall into the book, losing all track of where I am or how much time is passing. Every once in a while, I get lucky and a book grabs hold that just won't let me go. But even more rare is when I get so caught up in the story that I won't let go, either, actually slowing my reading to make the book last as long as possible.
This has happened twice in recent years: once with David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, and once with Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind. Both of these books absolutely transported me, and in both cases I didn't want to come back. And now it's happened again with Rabih Alameddine's upcoming The Hakawati.
At its simplest level, The Hakawati (Lebanese for storyteller), is the story of Osama al-Kharrat as he arrives home in Beirut to celebrate Eid al-Hada with his dying father. But there are so many other levels to enjoy! Alameddine weaves a beautiful tapestry of family history and Middle Eastern history which he then embellishes with all kinds of stories: adventures, romances, fables, tall tales, and myths. There are stories within stories within stories, yet you never get lost or even impatient--the storyteller's voice is so amazing and the characters so entertaining that you surrender to the pace of the storyteller and the will of the tale.
Pigeon wars in the skies above Beirut, war, family secrets, djinn in the underworld, hope, cruelty, privation, and so much more are all waiting for you between these covers; I hope you enjoy the journey as much as I did.