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The Hakawati

3.94 of 5 stars 3.94  ·  rating details  ·  2,279 ratings  ·  362 reviews
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 stor
...more
Hardcover, 528 pages
Published April 22nd 2008 by Bond Street Books (first published 2008)
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Mary Your question is either a sweeping generalization or poorly constructed or you're a troll. Not all the reviews written by those living in the States…moreYour question is either a sweeping generalization or poorly constructed or you're a troll. Not all the reviews written by those living in the States reflect a difficulty reading and understanding the book. However, the three or four reviews noting difficulty transitioning among the various story lines and time periods were, indeed, written by those in the States. Most "Americans" can boast reading comprehension levels above the sixth grade, which could easily explain why the book was published in the U.S.(less)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Peggy
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 ...more
Jonfaith
You can say that Lebanese has hundreds of lexemes for family relations. Family to the Lebanese is as snow to the Inuit.

Most of us are familiar with the fabled conversion stories, on the night Mario Vargas Llosa earned his law degree he picked up Brothers Karamazov and was bewitched, 24 hours later, having read all night and the next day he completed the tome and discovered that he was destined to be a novelist. What about Marx reading Hegel for days on end? Samuel Delany relates how he left his
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Ghi
I've said it before and I will say it again:

"...One thing I will admit however, is that this book suffers greatly from ADD. It is hard to get into it if you aren't a book lover. If the first sentence of "Listen. Allow me to be your God. Let me take you on a journey beyond imagining. Let me tell you a story" does not capture you, then you truly are a lost cause. In this book, you will feel joy, sorrow, fear, guilt, dread and regret in every page. You will laugh and cry at the same time. You will
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jordan
Jul 30, 2008 jordan rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Any one who loves a great story
Once in a very long while comes along a book so magical that one wishes it would never end. How perfect that Alameddine's The Hakawaiti is such a book? The title refers to the practice of a school of Middle Eastern story tellers who would entertain, often appearing nightly but drawing a story out over years, people coming back again and again to hear the next part of the tale. From the first line Alamaddine demonstrates himself to an heir to this great tradition, giving the reader a comfort that ...more
Meagan
Jun 30, 2014 Meagan marked it as did-not-finish
Shelves: fiction
This is going to be a very difficult review to write, because I don't want to influence anyone unfairly through my review, or scare anyone off from reading it. Because here's the thing: I gave up. I didn't finish. But I think it's a very good and worthy book! Don't judge it based on me!

Here's what happened:

A few years ago I read several really glowing reviews of this book, and when I checked out plot summaries it seemed like a strong contender for something I would like. It has a magical, almost
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Tony
It's not you, Rabih, it's me. Or, rather, I just tried this at the wrong season. There's as always the wonderful storytelling and the interweaving storylines suggest a larger purpose. I might have cancelled the golf match, turned off the baseball game, let the weeds grow in the garden, and ordered take-out, if this had been limited to the modern-day narrator. But when Fatima goes exploring, gets her hand ripped off and, whoosh, re-attaches it, I was weary that there'd soon be dragons. You're sti ...more
Sanchia
I loved this book and could not put it down, which made for a very tricky week as I have a six-month-old who also didn’t want to be put down. It’s amazing how much reading you can get done jiggling on the spot with baby in a papoose. I believe The Hakawati will top my list for the year’s most inventive, witty, adventurous and sexiest reads. It’s pure genius.
Hakawati is Arabic for storyteller, and the narrator of this tale is Osama al-Kharrat, a young Lebanese man who has returned to present day
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Melanie
One of the main themes of the book is identity and the search for a hybrid identity without a conflicted identity. The Hakawati alternates between a first-person account of his contemporary Lebanese family life and imaginative stories. Of these stories, one ongoing narrative is that of Baybars. It’s one of several Arabic oral epics, and his scenes from the epic of Baybars are great. They show the liveliness of the epic: fight scenes, love scenes, adventurous travels, double-crossing and disguise ...more
Clare
One of my top five favorite books. The perfect balance of all the things I like: self-discovery/reflection for a somewhat petty main character, mix of mythology and current events, magical realism, a satisfying quest (many satisfying quests), a distinctly playful style of prose. Excellent tension between history and identity. I love this book. I've reread it at least twice and it holds up every time.
Zillah
It wasn't one of those books that l couldn't put down and read in one sitting. I suppose u wonder how come l rated it 5* and shelved it as one of my favorites? Because it is one of the most amazing books l've ever held in my hands. Every time l picked it up again l was instantly dragged into this magical Alameddine's world composed of a million stories; about heros, demons, ordinary people, jealousy, love, forgiveness, dreams, disappointment, lust, bravery, fear, loss- each of those concerning a ...more
Kelly Neal
I liked the stories inside of stories and the never-ending quality of the stories. I assumed that the stories were going to be interrelated by the end, so I just trusted that assumption and plowed along even when i could not make a direct connection. I liked that the connections were not obvious, if there at all. I am not sure there were direct connections. It took me most of the novel to realize (i am slow) that the Hakawati was the son. Duh, he was telling the story, the only first person narr ...more
Leota
When I was in high school, every summer I’d go to Indiana for a week and let me tell you: they have some schizophrenic weather! Rain. Then sun. Then clouds. Then sun. Then rain. (Make up your mind, sky!)

So consequently, I hated the weather in Indiana, then loved it, then was indifferent to it, then hated and loved again.

That pretty much sums up my experience reading The Hakawati as well.

This novel (?) is made up of stories upon stories upon stories, and everyone is a storyteller – even charact
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Irena
Vrlo lako najbolja knjiga koju sam čitala u zadnjih par mjeseci.

Radnja teče kroz više isprepletenih priča; priča koje se rađaju jedna iz druge i čine neprekidan niz sve do kraja knjige, pa i dalje.

Priče o (važnosti i kompleksnosti) obiteljskim vezama, te srednjoistočnim klasičnim ljubavima i avanturama.

Ono što je meni najbitnije: jako lijepo, dobro pisanje. Pisac ne smara nijednom u svih 660 stranica knjige. Željela sam da mogu brže čitati, toliko sam htjela saznati what happens next.
Svaki put k
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Nino Frewat
I did not like this book; I hated it. Had this book not been selected by the boo club's members, I probably wouldn't have finished it; I probably wouldn't have crossed the 200th page; the following 300 pages add nothing new to the story.
It sapped the joy of reading out of me. I could not find anything original or smart in this book; I am Lebanese, and I can understand that readers of other nationalities, who never checked a Lebanese blog before, might find what is written informative. But to me
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Ron
This book is two historical novels, a family saga, and more than a couple short story collections rolled into one and told all at the same time. And it's a lot of fun. Alameddine centers it all around the gathering of an extended Lebanese family at the bedside of the narrator's father. Jumping from one narrative thread to another, one of them a long magical story within yet another one, about legendary kings, heroic slaves, and characters with super powers, reminiscent of "1001 Nights," the book ...more
Jackie
This is one of those books that I accidentally stole from another person. When buying my text books for the school year, I have a nasty habit of wandering through the literature class aisles and snapping up things that catch my eye--so, my deepest apologies to the last Middle Eastern lit student to make it to the bookstore, I hope this one was assigned somewhere late in the semester so you had time to order it on Amazon.

First, I love books about storytelling. Second, I love stories about places
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Kathyladner
Excellent story that interweaves the stories of the bible, modern and ancient storytellers, the Koran etc. The author makes a statement about religion through his telling of the story (all religion is based on storytelling...religion is not factual...all religions are related...their stories intertwine). The stories that the author tells are fascinating. A tale of a modern lebanese storytelling family before, during and after war intermixed with the telling of ancient stories. Loved this book fo ...more
Kathrina
I tripped up on my plan to only read horror/thrillers this month, but I was stuck at the auto shop without my current read, and I'd just picked this up for myself as a treat. This is a luxurious story, and I admit, I probably read through way too fast. There are always at least three story lines moving at once, and if you don't keep reading regularly you are likely to lose a thread. Alameddine creates wonderfully retold stories of old -- biblical, Islamic, Judaic, a wonderful tapestry of history ...more
Alison Looney
One character in the novel, a storyteller by trade, compares stories to "eels in a wooden crate. They slither over and under each other, but never leave the tub." This pretty well describes the novel as a whole, which is constructed of long and short stories that wind and weave over 500+ pages. Some stories are epic, spanning many years and miles and generations, ending up far from where they began. Some are short and have clear morals. Some involve magic and fantasy, some are grounded in realis ...more
William
This is really 2 books in one which are very much intertwined. One the story of an extended Lebanese Druze family. Extended in both its current size and many generations. And the other the rich mythology and folk tales of the Arab world. These are not your Disneyfied Ali Baba or Prince of Persia tales but the unvarnished "Hakawati" tales. Hakawati meaning story teller. The Hakawati being as important to family and social life as any other prestigious occupation. THe blending of cultural mytholog ...more
Adam
This one's tough for me to review. The first half I read aloud to my girlfriend; the second half I read to myself. While reading it aloud, I was frustrated with the non-linear nature of the story as well as with the prose itself. I guess it just didn't lend itself to being read aloud.

But when I was reading it to myself in peace and quiet, I found the novel strangely irresistible. The stories are unique and interesting, even occasionally funny, and present a pretty compelling view of another cult
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Bookmarks Magazine

The Hakawati is more than just a good book: it's a diplomatic opportunity that invites non-Arabs to see beyond stereotypes and expose themselves to some of the nuance and complexity within the Arab world. Arab readers and others already familiar with the varied source material will find it transformed by Alameddine's imagination. The work garnered high praise for its literary merit, although some reviewers found the immense cast and mazelike structure confusing and wished for a closer focus on O

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Nicolien
"I never claimed to possess any dignity," Harhash said. "I will do anything for a good story, including befriending ingrates like you two. One day, when I am old and weathered, I will be able to sit down with my friends and tell our great tales. A good storyteller can never afford the luxury of being dignified."

(p.467)
John Lathers
Really, very good book. Anyone who loves stories within stories will really enjoy. It seemed to me like 100 Years of Solitude and a Christopher Moore novel had a baby while on vacation in Beirut. I think there were some points where it was a bit too vague or confusing or, potentially just up for interpretation that was a bit lost on me, so potentially a good book club book. Highly recommend.
Megan
I was disappointed in this book. I kept expecting it to be better than it was--and it definitely has its moments--but it seemed to need more discipline to really live up to its potential. As it was, I just got tired of it. I read all the other glowing reviews for this book and felt sorry they weren't my experience. I even put it down for awhile and came back to it and felt the same way. The culture was interesting and the writing is good and the stories weren't boring--I just wished it was...mor ...more
Alicia
The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine is a Scheherazade of a story layering stories within stories within stories in a complex pattern that blends fantasy and reality together in one brilliant package. Osama, now an engineer in Los Angeles, travels home to Lebanon to be with his father during his final days. During his visit with his family, he remembers stories of his grandfather, a hakawati, or storyteller. Weaving in and out of his family story are the fantastical stories of Fatima, a slave girl a ...more
Linda
I thought I would love this book, but the reality was a little different. The narrative consists of interlocking stories, past and present, mythical and real (real in the fictional sense). The stories thematically inform each other. Clever structure, right?

Unfortunately, I found the whole enterprise rather static, without a compelling through line that I could become engaged in. I was reading it for about six weeks, and never felt compelled to spend more time with it than a few minutes before be
...more
Kari
Jan 26, 2009 Kari rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Kari by: Ike
Shelves: read-in-2009
One of the best books I have read in a while. If you like folklore, storytelling, and onion layers of story, then grab this book and settle in for a few hours. At points it is dizzying to determine who all the characters are and what is going on, but the storytelling redeems. This book has made me very curious about Lebanon, and has inspired me to find some of the titles mentioned in the notes by the author. The type of book that I wanted to immediately start again, because I knew the stories we ...more
Mary
A rare and enriching feast

Have you ever read a book or heard a musical composition and had your faith in the superiority of mankind's intellect restored? Rabih Alameddine, a true hakawati, has delivered a work so splendidly rich and powerful, no other writing will match its caliber. Written with true Lebanese voice and smooth, precise imagery, The Hakawiti stands as my favorite book ever written.
Traci
This book is written in the style of Alf Leila w Leila (1,001 Arabian Nights) and is a masterpiece. It starts off with two main stories: one of Fatima, who goes on a journey to help the king and queen conceive a son; the other of Osama, who journeys to Beirut in 2003 to visit his dying father. From there, each character begins to tell their own stories. The Hakawati intertwines traditional Middle Eastern folklore (Majnoun and Layla), creative retellings of historical epics (Baybars), and brand n ...more
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Rabih Alameddine (Arabic: ربيع علم الدين) was born in Amman, Jordan to Lebanese parents, and grew up in Kuwait and Lebanon. He was educated in England and America, and has an engineering degree from UCLA and an MBA from the University of San Francisco. ...more
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“...What happens is of little significance compared with the stories we tell ourselves about what happens. Events matter little, only stories of events affect us.” 118 likes
“By nature, a storyteller is a plagiarist. Everything one comes across--each incident, book, novel, life 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.” 14 likes
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