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The Hakawati

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  3,578 ratings  ·  524 reviews
In 2003, Osama al-Kharrat returns to Beirut after many years in America to stand vigil at his father's deathbed. As the family gathers, stories begin to unfold: Osama's grandfather was a hakawati, or storyteller, and his bewitching tales are interwoven with classic stories of the Middle East. Here are Abraham and Isaac; Ishmael, father of the Arab tribes; the beautiful ...more
Paperback, 513 pages
Published June 2nd 2009 by Anchor 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)
This question contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
Akibsi I think that Arbusto dies and is taken by the jinni to oblivion

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Average rating 3.95  · 
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Peggy
Mar 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Ghi
Sep 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
jordan
Jul 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sofia
Listen,



let me tell you a story.
Imagine little wizened Rumpelstiltskin choosing pieces of straw which he then nimbly spins into gold. Threads within threads. This is what this story is like. Alameddine might not be wizened, I do not know, I have never met him. I have only met him through his stories and let me assure you he is a magical word weaver. Laying before me pieces of precious gold.

Writing this and missing the book. Ive spent more than a fortnight with it and Im going to miss it. It was
...more
Meagan
Jul 23, 2010 marked it as did-not-finish  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
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 ...more
Chrissie
I listened to 4 hours of 20 hours and 53 minutes.....and then I gave up.

Why?

I was confused much of the time. I didn't always know who was speaking. I didn't know if I was listening to a "story"* or the present time thread about Osama al-Kharrat who was back in Lebanon because his father was dying. Or was this now a shift to Osama's youth? Also, I didn't know who was who. Aunts and uncles and cousins - I just couldn't keep them straight. The characters are not properly introduced. I was upset
...more
Hermien
Jul 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebooks, middle-east
The delightful story of Osama al-Kharrat colourful Lebanese family interspersed with Arabian tales. The family story flicks back and forth in time and there are stories within stories, but I didn't find it difficult to follow and it gave the book a beautiful richness.
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. Its 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
Sanchia
Nov 23, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 didnt want to be put down. Its 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 years most inventive, witty, adventurous and sexiest reads. Its 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
...more
Mary
Feb 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
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.
Nick
Feb 15, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"The Hakawati" is an elegy for the Lebanon, multicultural and urbane, that was shattered by the civil war from 1975 through 1990, depicted largely through the story of one of the narrators' extended family. The title refers to a professional storyteller, which the family's grandfather was but is also a wink (of which there are many in this book), referring to the author, who twines three stories together in alternating fashion. There is the family, gathered at the hospital deathbed of the ...more
Jalilah
The Hakawati is a rich tapestry, both compelling and moving of family's history woven together with various tales and tales within tales.
Alameddine lists his influences as A Thousand and One Nights,Ovid's Metamorphoses, The Old Testament, the Koran, Italo Calvino's Italian Folktales and many more.
The main story is of a large extended Lebanese family descended from a "Hakawati", or storyteller. Osama, the main protagonist, returns to Lebanon from L.A. to be with his dying father. His grandfather
...more
Emi Bevacqua
Apr 20, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: mideast
Wow this book was exhausting to follow, even after having just finished another Rabih Alameddine book immediately prior to picking up this one, and even though some of the story line seemed to overlap: a Lebanese family separated by feuds, geography, war, and stubbornness.

In The Hakawati, the present-day-ish story of reunification at the hospital for a dying loved one is interwoven with fantastical Arabian Nights type stories (Hakawati translates as storyteller) throughout the ages and spanning
...more
Tamara Agha-Jaffar
The Hakawati (Arabic for storyteller) by Rabih Alameddine appropriately begins with the word Listen and ends with the word Listen. These two words form a circle encapsulating an enchanting world of stories within stories within stories told by a gifted storyteller who knows how to attract and sustain his audiences attention.

The main narrative is of Osama al-Kharrat who returns to Beirut in 2003 after an absence of many years to see his dying father. Within that narrative are flashbacks of Osama
...more
Natacha Pavlov
This reading surprised me in two ways; on one level by its beautiful writing and then by my eventual waning interest.

The author is undeniably skilled, what with interweaving present-day narrative with Arabian Nights-like stories emanating the Hakawati style. Theres a plethora of references ranging from folk tales, the three monotheist faiths, and Greek mythologycomplete with elements like mutilation, homosexuality, and incestthat reflect the authors creativity. (Bonus points for the hilariously
...more
Zillah
May 12, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
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 ...more
Conor Ahern
I read this for a book club, and it started out pretty well. This book is comprised of three interlinking stories--one a seeming roman-a-clef whose main character is a thinly veiled cipher of the author, a wealthy and failed homosexual straddling the Middle East and America; a fantastical story of jinni and mystical oases; and a semi-historical account of some guy named Baybars.

I got all English 101 on this book at first, thinking that there must have been a reason for the imbrication. Why have
...more
Katie
Feb 11, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: as-audio
This book is unique and imaginative and for the first 25% or so I loved it. The way the author zips back and forth in and out of storylines - the narrator's and the tales - keeps you on your toes. And the way the tales feel like old tales in their cadence and subject matter but then have some decidedly non-biblical perspectives... it's delightful. And you get to learn about Lebanon! But.

The reimagined old tales sprawl out of all proportion to the main narrative, and and out of proportion to
...more
Naim Frewat
Jul 10, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-fiction
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
...more
LenaRibka
Audible headphones_icon_1

DNF

I got an ebook's sample from Amazon and I enjoyed it. Now I know -the way this book is structured it is much better to read to it than to listen to it. Even if I liked the narrator at the beginning, I found very difficult to follow the plot.

There is no pause or voice changing between the present and the "fables". I didn't know who was speaking at the moment and what it was about and how all these stories are connected. And with so many names - that are difficult for me to
...more
Leota
May 18, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I was in high school, every summer Id 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
...more
Clare
Jan 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Maya
Aug 05, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really, really creative and interesting book, a pleasure to read. I was sorry to finish it. I think I subconsciously slowed down at the end because I wanted it to last longer!
Ewelina
Sep 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
the best book I've read this year. phenomenal.
Kelly Neal
Jul 04, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Yogi Travelling
Oct 16, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lebanon
In Lebanese "hakawati" is derived from the word "haki" which means "talk" or "conversation", suggesting that in Lebanese the mere act of talking is storytelling.

We are all living our own story - I recently returned from some time in Lebanon only to enhance my own experience, my own story...

In this book the author Rabih Alameddine, does a wonderful job at moving between many different stories intertwining them as he sees fit. There is a main story that takes place during the Civil War in Lebanon
...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 ...more
William
Sep 02, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...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.” 160 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.” 25 likes
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