The Dog Doesn’t Die

Book reviews & random thoughts

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of The Hakawati, by Rabih Alameddine

This brilliant book, written in the spiralling framework we know from 1001 Arabian Nights, combines the story of a modern-day Lebanese family with classic Middle Eastern stories about the Crusades, evil genies, and Arab tribes. It’s also long, and I think it’s rather complex for a book group discussion, but I loved it and can’t recommend it highly enough.

Osama, the narrator of the contemporary story, has returned to Beirut from his high-tech job in California in order to be present at the death of his father. As he tells us about his complex family, he returns again and again to stories told first by his grandfather, who was a storyteller by profession, also known as a hakawati.

There are many threads, weaving in and out like a ball of yarn after a cat attack, or a pot of spaghetti fallen to the floor. Among the most outstanding were those of Majnoun, Layl, and a coterie of imps; the slave prince Baybars and his allies Layla and Othman; and Osama’s own family. Alameddine thoroughly covers the diversity of the Arab world, in religion, attitude, accomplishment, history, and culture. Especially at this time when the prevailing tendency is to pigeonhole people into tight little niches, Alameddine proves again and again that such attempts are not only wrong but also, for an honest person, impossible.

Animal lovers will find hero animals as well as disturbing scenes. A lamb is slaughtered rather graphically, trained pigeons battled each other to the death at the direction of their human masters, the genius horse Al-Awwar becomes a general and warrior who leads his fellow equines and their human cargo to victory in battle after battle, and a range of lesser situations are scattered throughout the book. Birds in general don’t fare well in Alameddine’s tale, so I am going to declare this book UNSAFE FOR BIRD LOVERS (you know who you are!) but MOSTLY SAFE for animal lovers who can get past that.

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September 7, 2009 - Posted by | animals, Book Reviews, death of a parent | , , , , , , , , ,

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