No matter how hard Rachid tries to recreate himself, to become educated and worldly - to "learn English" - it is impossible for this hip Beiruti with his cell phone and high-speed internet to sever the connection to his past in the Lebanese village of Zgharta, known for its "tough guys" and old-fashioned clan mentality. When the news of his father's murder, a case of blood revenge, reaches him by chance through a newspaper report, it drags him inescapably back into the world of his past. Suddenly he is plunged once again into the endless questions that plagued his childhood.
The accomplished al-Daif hooks his readers from page one of this novel - partly with fragments of suspense-filled plot and partly with his typically idiosyncratic narrator, whose bizarre stories, comical asides, and uncannily perceptive comments on human nature lead us through this tantalizing, funny, and sober book about the hold the past has on Lebanon, and on us all.
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Born in Lebanon in 1945, Rachid al-Daif is the acclaimed author of eleven novels and three volumes of poetry. Of the novels, three have been translated into English: Dear Mr. Kawabata, This Side of Innocence, and Passage to Dusk.From Publishers Weekly:
A riveting interior monologue by Lebanese novelist al-Daif (This Side of Innocence) penetrates the deep-seated anxiety of a middle-aged Beirut-based literature professor after he hears about his father's tribal murder. First-person narrator Rashid prides himself on being a contemporary person, educated in French, learning English (it is the language, according to Rashid) and happily removed from the primitive customs of his hometown, Zgharta. However, the shocking news he hears secondhand of his father's murder by blood revenge plunges him into his family's shameful history and draws into question his own paternity. Over the course of a day spent at home awaiting more news from Zgharta, Rashid sifts through his memories of his mother and father's troubled marriage: his father's cruelty toward his mother when he discovered she had lost her virginity to his rival, the role of scheming uncles and his mother's love for and abandoned plans to escape with the other man. Narrator Rashid dredges these conundrums without resolution, while feeling pulled to return home as his father's son and make order of the chaotic household. The Haydars' pristine translation captures Rashid's conflictedness and leaves intact al-Daif's wordplay, making this a fine introduction to Arabic fiction.
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