Anyone who reads this book cannot walk away without being impressed with Alameddine's use of literature and to a lesser degree classical music and vis...moreAnyone who reads this book cannot walk away without being impressed with Alameddine's use of literature and to a lesser degree classical music and visual arts. The book is a quoter, underliner and highlighter's delight. In other words, you need to OWN it. I must reread it with a plethora of colored hightliters handy. One color for authors names, one for book titles, one for quotes, and one really, really brilliant color for Alameddine's own quotable writing.
"The above thought has invaded my mind like algae this morning." "Her body exudes a cold of ancient winters." (Describing her 88-year-old mother from whom she is estranged.) "Of all the lovely phrases and images, the bright jewels imbedded in Tennyson's "Tithonus," this sentence........quickens my essence." "My nightgown, darkened with moisture, sticks to my torso like the skin on an onion. I glance back, notice that I've left two damp bulbs on the sheet." (I read that sentence three times before moving on.)
The following paragraph may seem unremarkable, but it is indicitive of Alameddine's skill. Every word, carefully chosen, creates the scene, the mood, the image.
"In the wire rack next to the sink, the dishes dry, slowly dripping water upon the gray stone countertop. A winter wind starts a low moan outside my kitchen window. Rain comes."
A little set-up is necessary for the next quote. Aaliya is a 72-year-old woman, who for 50 years has secretly translated one book a year in her own handwriting a and packed it away in "the maid's bedroom." She ruminates over her solitary life and the endlessly turbulent pulse of Beirut.
"Beirut is the Elizabeth Taylor of cities: insane, beautiful, tacky, falling apart, aging, and forever drama laden. She'll also marry any infatuated suitor who promises to make her life more comfortable, no matter how inappropriate he is."
As the youngest, she is in her opinion, the unnecessary child her mother bore. Her siblings are older, male, from another father and she despises them.
Her marriage at sixteen to an impotent man (but she is not a virgin) ends when he announces he is divorcing her. She acquires employ at the only bookstore in Beirut that carries serious literature. Over the years she takes a book here, and a book there. Her justification for this?
"I like to consider my little thefts a public service. Someone had to read Eliot's 'The Waste Land' as the glow of Sabra burning illuminated Beirut's skyline. No, seriously, had I not ordered some of these books, they would have never landed on Lebanese soil. For crying out loud, do you think anyone else in Lebanon has a copy of Djuna Barnes's 'Nightwood'? And I am picking just one book off the top of my head. Lampedusa's 'The Leopard'? I don't think anyone else in this country has a book by Novalis."
She is not a likeable character, nor does she care to be. "Isn't a sensitive soul simply a means of transforming a deficiency into proud disdain?"
If you despise books with despicable characters....stay away! But if you are a bookophile who, like Aaliya has stacks of books lying around the house, try this; take the most recent acquisition off the top of the pile (this one) and read it. As Aalilyah says, "Sometimes that works." (less)