Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Book Review: The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine

On the jacket:

An astonishingly inventive, wonderfully exuberant novel that takes us from the shimmering dunes of ancient Egypt to the war-torn streets of twenty-first-century Lebanon. 

In 2003, Osama al-Kharrat returns to Beirut after many years in America to stand vigil at his father’s deathbed. The city is a shell of the Beirut Osama remembers, but he and his friends and family take solace in the things that have always sustained them: gossip, laughter, and, above all, stories. 

Osama’s grandfather was a hakawati, or storyteller, and his bewitching stories–of his arrival in Lebanon, an orphan of the Turkish wars, and of how he earned the name al-Kharrat, the fibster–are interwoven with classic tales of the Middle East, stunningly reimagined. Here are Abraham and Isaac; Ishmael, father of the Arab tribes; the ancient, fabled Fatima; and Baybars, the slave prince who vanquished the Crusaders. Here, too, are contemporary Lebanese whose stories tell a larger, heartbreaking tale of seemingly endless war–and survival. 

Like a true hakawati, Rabih Alameddine has given us an Arabian Nights for this century–a funny, captivating novel that enchants and dazzles from its very first lines: “Listen. Let me take you on a journey beyond imagining. Let me tell you a story.”


Absolute, awesome, breathtaking storytelling. Yes, that's what The Hakawati is. This is what a book lover, someone who passionately loves a good tale, craves for. It's not for you if you prefer think books which can be finished in one go; this book is a saga. It's magic! 

Hakawati is storyteller, in Arabic and in this book, the stories are a narration by a young Lebanese man. It's an amalgamation of stories and finishing the book can get exhaustive. The correct way to treat this book is with ample free time, when nothing will disturb you. A delectable experience, if you love books, you cannot not experience it!

There are stories inside stories with a never-ending feel to them. The stories are sort of interconnected but the clever bit is that the connections are not obvious. What I absolutely loved was actually in the acknowledgements. It went as, "By nature, a storyteller is a plagiarist. Everything one comes across- each incident, book, novel, lite episode, story, person, news clip- is a coffee bean that will be crushed, ground up, mixed with a touch of cardamom, sometimes a tiny pinch of salt, boiled thrice with sugar, and served as a piping-hot tale." This shows the brilliance of the author.

A long, long story with many stories in between. If you can endure that, this is just the right book for you!

Rating: *****/5

[This review is for Random House India. The opinions are strictly my own and not been written under any obligation.]

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