The Hakawati – by Rabih Alameddine

Rabih Alameddine has a LOT of stories and in this book he spins out quite a number to entertain us. Think along the lines of One Thousand and One Nights. He is Lebanese by birth, but divides his time between San Francisco and Beirut.

I fell in love with Alameddine’s prior book, An Unnecessary Woman, several years ago and have had The Hakawati on my Audible Wish List for several years now. Because of a kind of negative reader review on Audible, I both read and listened.

*******
The Hakawati
by Rabih Alameddine
2008 / 529 pages
read by Assaf Cohen – 20h 53m
rating: 8 / general fiction
(both read and listened)
*******

It’s not what I expected and not as good as An Unnecessary Woman, but it’s definitely worth the read IF you enjoy a bit of fantasy. It reminds me a lot more of some of Salmon Rushdie’s works than it does of An Unnecessary Woman.

As his father is dying, the 1st person protagonist, Osama al-Kharrat, travels from Los Angeles to Beirut, Lebanon his native home. He will gather with his family there, to hold vigil and then mourn. The family is of the Lebanese Druze branch of the Islamic faith which is a bit different.

Osama’s grandfather was a Hakawati, a storyteller, and for as long as he can he continues that avocation as do his descendants both before and after his death. Alameddine himself is a wondrous storyteller.

The story of the relatives gathering serves as a kind of frame but it runs through the stories so they are thoroughly interwoven. The stories are the crux of the book but there’s plenty of drama in the real life situation of Osama. The stories are fascinatingly original and of all kinds – romantic, adventurous, inspirational, historical and everything combined and in between. The frame story is generally linear but there are flashbacks which make that confusing. The inner stories are also generally linear but there are breaks in this pattern which can make it a bit confusing.

From Chris Watson in the Santa Cruz Sentinel

“Be thankful for Rabih Alameddine’s new novel, The Hakawati. In one of the most delightful books of the year, Alameddine relates many of the stories that unite the people living in the Middle East. The narrator’s family are Druze living in Lebanon, but the stories we hear come from Cairo, Damascus and Turkey as well as from the Bible and the Quran. Modern readers have nothing to fear from Alameddine as the novel is contemporary as well as ancient. David Bowie and Santa Claus can be found in these stories as well as Abraham, Orpheus, jinnis, sultans, crusaders, magic carpets, virgins, houris and, of course, evil viziers. The story of why Aladdin is Chinese is superb. The Hakawati is a book to be read and read again.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mamluk_Sultanate_(Cairo)

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