I, The Divine: A Novel in First Chapters
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I, The Divine: A Novel in First Chapters

4.06 of 5 stars 4.06  ·  rating details  ·  456 ratings  ·  64 reviews
"Alameddine's new novel unfolds like a secret... creating a tale...humorous and heartbreaking and always real" (Los Angeles Times). "[W]ith each new approach, [Sarah] sheds another layer of her pretension, revealing another truth about her humanity" (San Francisco Weekly). Raised in a hybrid family shaped by divorce and remarriage, and by Beirut in wartime, Sarah finds a f...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published October 17th 2002 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 1985)
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ثلاثية غرناطة by رضوى عاشورAzazil by Youssef Ziedanواحة الغروب by بهاء طاهرThe Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al AswanyThe Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz
Best Middle East Fiction
45th out of 207 books — 225 voters
Koolaids by Rabih AlameddineDe Niro's Game by Rawi HageThe Hakawati by Rabih AlameddineA Game for Swallows by Zeina AbirachedYalo by Elias Khoury
The Lebanese Civil War in Literature
28th out of 59 books — 10 voters

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There are colors all through this book, starting perhaps with the red of the protagonist’s hair, a red she inherited from her American mother. Sometimes, in writing, color is just a prop, like cigarette smoke or a sunset; but sometimes it can be definitional, like this:

I was in New York last week and saw two retrospectives, Pierre Bonnar’s and Rothko’s. Besides noting that Bonnard could not draw if his life depended on it and that Rothko did not even try, I was stunned by a major realization. Wh...more
This book is such genius: every single chapter is written as though it's a first chapter ... and it is such a wonderful, engrossing read! It felt like meeting a new friend and getting to know her bit by bit; every story (chapter) stands on its own, but when combined as a larger piece (an entire book) the whole story comes to light. It flips back and forth, from characters perspectives, from Lebanon to New York City to San Francisco. Although this is mainly the story of Sarah Nour El-Din, you als...more
This is a novel that, to all intents and purposes, should not work at all. The gimmick of an entire novel composed of false stops and starts of a Lebanese-American woman’s memoir – hence the ‘A Novel in First Chapters’ of the sub-title – should just be that, a gimmick.

For how else how can you possibly engage the reader emotionally if you are constantly highlighting its form? Surely, then, character and feeling are subjugated to the artifice inherent in the novel’s form.

And yet it works, magnific...more
I may have a new favorite author. Spoiler alert: I'm not giving any plot spoilers, but if you'd rather discover how the writing style makes this book so unique... I might spoil that.

It really is written in first chapters, and once you get into it, doesn't that make a lot of sense? There are so many points in our lives that could be the first chapter, and each deserving of its own tone, style, point of view. Sarah is clearly the subject of the story, but by writing this way her story can also be...more
Interesting technique (it's a novel entirely made up of first chapters begun and discarded) and one that rewards close reading. The book is about a Lebanese Druze girl growing up and her identity crisis when she moves to America. Mostly I liked this book technically, but it seems like a popular plot/theme for books these days, so if you like those sorts of books this is an interesting formalistic style for it.
Syazwina Saw
This is the first book in a long while to have captured me from its first pages. Sarah Nour el-Din is writing a memoir, and what we are reading is the sum of her efforts, her false starts, her childhood memories recollected carefully and with anecdotal charm.

You begin curious about this lively young girl she describes, the handsome and charismatic lover she meets early in life, and the way she falters halfway through, as though unable to continue. As we read more of her first chapters, we see he...more
I don't remember reading a book as imaginative as this one in a very long time! Alameddine swept me off my feet again! I'll just say this- READ IT!
emi Bevacqua
The format of this entire book is a series of first chapters, whether titled, prologue, or written in French. I flew through it in 24 hours. I loved the novelty of it up til halfway through, and loved the main character Sarah Nour el-Din and all her family members too. Sarah's mother is American and her father Lebanese, she grows up in one country and then the other grappling with issues multi-cultural, psychological and otherwise.

There was a graphic rape scene that bothered me entirely because...more
A good friend thrust this at me and said, "Read this. You'll love it." I did. Written as though Beirut-born Sarah Nour el-Din, who now lives in San Francisco, is having trouble knowing just how to start her memoir. She starts from one point in her life. Chapter One. Then tries another opening. Another Chapter One. Still unsatisfied, she begins again - Chapter One. And so the details of her life are filled in.

It sounds like an unusual approach, a gimmick, but it feels very natural. Each Chapter...more
Beginnings / Endings

Beginnings / Endings

this amazing author engrosses with countless beginnings, eventually, however, we feel the sadness of the countless losses embedded in the subject's narrative: husbands,son, homeland,mothers,father,identity... the many voices and perspectives of the narrative veil, but do not fail to reveal, this current through all. just one example: "you didn't come to my show. oh, I see. you suicided instead.oh."
The book is written in a series of first chapters, but don't be deceived, it is anything but repetitive. The author, by utilizing this technique, brings you closer into understanding the protagonist Sarah. You learn more about her upbringing and her dysfunctional family. It draws you into understanding and knowing her with each revelation. Sarah is so jaded and anything but perfect that it makes for an interesting read.
This book has as its subtitle "A Novel in First Chapters." In the book the author reveals a bit more of the main character's self, narrated by the main character, while also filling us in on her family life. The most extraordinary aspect is how in some ways despite all of their differences, the family still needs one another. At the same time, the cruelty with which the family treats outsiders is disturbing, though it is portrayed as treatment of individuals (the treatment of Janet and later Sam...more
Michelle Travaille
I found this a very disconcerting book as it repeated itself constantly. Each chapeter is called Chapter one which I found interesting but that was where the interest ended. The characters were, I found, generaly cold and uninviting and rather two dimensional. The novel is set in Lebanon and America and is a fictional biography of Sarah, a half Lebanese, half American woman, supposedly a free spirit (but all her family thinks she is crazy). Really her character comes off as a bit obsessive and c...more
Mark Bruce
Highly entertaining tale of a Woman with half her heart in America and half in Lebanon, feeling the tug of war of two very different cultures. The woman is Druze, and how often do we hear that voice on the world stage? The characters are colorful but not cartoonish. There's always a sinister band playing in the background as Sarah (named after Sarah Bernhardt) stumbles through her failed marriages, he inability to parent, her awkward relations with a demanding father and cold step-mother.

The gim...more
The idea of writing a novel entirely in first chapters is original -- the premise being that the protagonist is trying to write her story, mostly as a memoir, but sometimes as a novel. I liked it, but I didn't love it. Putting together the pieces of Sarah's story through all these introductions was enjoyable, but I couldn't entirely buy her as a character.

(I picked this novel because I enjoyed Alameddine's short story "A Kiss to Wake the Sleeper" in My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me:...more
I was very impressed with Alameddine's book and I look forward to reading more by him. Alameddine's book is very creative, the story told in successively written, and discarded, first chapters in the protagonist's memoir. In this way, we learn that she is a Lebanese emigré living in San Francisco (like Alameddine himself), that her mother was American, and of the trauma of the Lebanese civil war and other events in her life. In fact, like many trauma victims, she struggles to tell her story, and...more
Alia Fares
still trying to figure out the how deeply intense/less it is...
Heather Fox
I really enjoyed the first 3/4 of this book, and then it sort of lost steam for me.I loved the idea of first chapters. It is such a unique concept, but it makes so much sense- when you are writing a story about ones life, there are so many places the story can begin. I loved that- but the last chapters did meet up with my expectations due to the intrigue I had at the beginning. I especially disliked the last chapter- it really did not "end" things for me and that chapter seemed so out of sync fo...more
Lilly G
Although this is written by a man, it feels like a woman's novel. The book explores biculturalism and how we define ourselves. Sarah is an interesting character, not necessarily very likeable, but the way she is drawn by the author is incredibly real; I kept looking at the cover to remind myself that a man had gotten into a woman's character so well. (see also: Memoirs of a Geisha). Good read. Not uplifting, but definitely interesting!
This is art. Rather than compare this with The Hakawati, it seems like these two novels work in a dialogue with each other, trying (gorgeously) to answer where our personal stories really begin. Sarah doesn't answer this here, but I think that's the point.

This is the only way that I think I could have met her. This is a work that begs revisiting.
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What a beautiful novel! This novel is an autobiography written by Sarah, a Lebanese American. It is her story and she begins it again and again. Each chapter is chapter one. The novel moves between Lebanon and the United States, through San Francisco, Beirut,and New York City. It is a beautifully done exploration of the creation of self and exploration of identity.
I love this book.

Interesting premise - a memoir that purposely never gets past the first chapters, but the first attempts as a whole add up to a kaleidoscope look at this woman's life, her family's life. There are many layers to this story, just like in any family.

It's very detailed - dealing with memory, family, identity.

I couldn't put it down.
Katrina Becker
This book was really great for the writing style, which is that every chapter is a first chapter. Each one has a distinct style, and as I love first lines to anything, I found this really interesting. Also, the author has such talent with words, which is always a plus. It was a little hard not having continuity though, but of course that's the point!
Steven Salaita
Another great novel by Alameddine. Like the Hakawati, this one deals with a large Beiruti family. Its unique contribution is that it never evolves beyond chapter one, as it's told from the POV of a woman writing a novel and memoir. As usual, Alameddine's language and humor are splendid, and his depictions of Lebanon even better than realistic.
The "every-chapter-is-the-first-chapter" concept both intimidated and intrigued me. Could an entire book be written around the first chapter? Yes, and how marvelous it is. As an outsider, you would think you wouldn't learn much about the characters. How wrong. I found myself, just like in his last novel I read, yearning for more pages. Try it, now!
It's the style of the book that is so attractive. The idea of it made up entirely of first chapters. I loved how creative the author got with all the different beginnings, even if by the last few chapters it stops being so novel.
And because that's how it's written it helps a lot in understanding how confusing the heroine's life is/was.
A Lebanese girl of with an American mother who grew up during the 1972 civil war tells of her troubled childhood. Her adulthood in America isn't much happier. The form of the book is unique - each chapter is a "first chapter". And I enjoyed the point of view of the Lebanese culture. An easy read but, not a great book.
Laura Mazzola
Someone gave me this book a long time ago and I just finally read it. I really like how it was written- the main character is trying to write a memoir but she can't get past the first chapter. The entire book is a collection of first chapters of her life story which all come together to tell the story of her life.
I was so sad when this book was over! As I am, the main character is a Lebanese-American of a Druze family. It was fun to learn more about the Druze/Lebanese culture, read about areas of Beirut where I have visited/my family lives, etc. Also, I enjoyed the way it was written - as all first chapters.
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great book 1 3 Jan 15, 2010 06:31PM  
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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 about Rabih Alameddine...
The Hakawati An Unnecessary Woman Koolaids: The Art of War The Perv: Stories My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales

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“I believe one has to escape oneself to discover oneself.” 57 likes
“I opened myself to you only to be skinned alive. The more vulnerable I became, the faster and more deft your knife. Knowing what was happening, still I stayed and let you carve more. That's how much I loved you. That's how much.” 21 likes
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