This was nearly a DNF for me. Ultimately I’m glad I stuck with it, but it was definitely not the sort of writing I find appealing.
It’s basically the story of the massacre of the Palestinians of Lydda, now Lod, in 1948. Once the narrator gets to that, the narrative becomes powerful and horrific – somewhat diluted still by his endless circuitry and waffle. The long first part of the novel is about the narrator, Adam Dannoun, having a kind of identity crisis as he’s told his parentage is not what he believed. This is told as a story within a story, by some academic first person maundering on about his not-an-affair with a beautiful young Korean student, amongst other things, and how he came into possession of Adam’s notebooks. I suppose Adam’s search for identity is kind of a mirror or symbol of the crisis in identity that displaced refugees experience, as the heart of the story is around dispossession, and losing your place in the world. As well as genocide. Certain themes are revisited: love, silence, words… over and over again. Repetition is not a crime in this kind of stream of consciousness narrative (though I’m sure it’s not really SOC at all, but carefully constructed): maybe repetition is meant to emphasize.
The finding of notebooks device, and frequent (again, repetitive) references to an old myth or fairy tale of a lover in a coffer, again seem to go round and round. The prose is often poetic, and probably more poetic still in the original, but this kind of waffle I find self-indulgent. I think the impact of the atrocity – the tale he has to tell - would be infinitely more powerful without this endless self-obsessed burbling (though admittedly that is often a feature of lauded literary works I don’t like), which ultimately wraps around and dulls the sharp blade of truth and horror within.
I’m being a plebian/philistine here – but it would be better at half the length. Then, if he wants to talk about words and silence and his many fathers, he could write a short poem or two. And as for the Korean student – did-he-didn’t-he have an affair?– leave her out altogether. And the notebooks device – story within a story. He doesn’t return to it, and as far as I can see it’s entirely redundant.
But for all those many caveats, an important, heartbreaking story that needs to be told.
What Works And Why?
We read to escape, enjoy, engage, and find out more about our world. So reading is great - but what makes a great read? A page dedicated to short analyses of how writers engage readers.