In the author's first novel to be translated into English, a young Lebanese soldier, mortally wounded in the final days of the 1991 civil war, reviews his life while drifting in and out of consciousness. (Al-Daif, who is from a Christian Maronite family, is a lecturer in Arabic language and literature at the Lebanese University in Beirut.) As the nameless narrator recalls his childhood in a traditional village, his years in university, and his time fighting in the civil war, he mentally writes letters to Yasunari Kawabata, the Japanese novelist who killed himself in 1972. The topics discussed in these letters include free will, religion, various political groups, family relationships, and, finally, death. As he tells of his awareness during his conception and birth, our dying narrator also becomes aware of his death, of being placed in a coffin, and of being buried. He hears his mother's laments as well as his deceased father's comments. Well written in concise, eloquent prose, this poignant novel gives the reader many insights into the world of a Middle Eastern man and the many conflicts he faces while maturing into adulthood. Recommended for larger public libraries and academic collections.DLisa Rohrbaugh, East Palestine Memorial P.L., OH
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A dying Lebanese man imagines that he's writing a letter to a Japanese novelist who committed suicide several years earlier. He recounts the significant events of his childhood, recalling being severely beaten by an older neighbor whose religious beliefs were offended by the narrator's assertion that the earth is round and that it orbits the sun (a fact that he had just learned in school). He also describes having his fingers branded with a red-hot poker because he hadn't yet learned to read cursive writing and so cannot read a letter to his illiterate father. He then relives his military experience and attempts to explain his suicidal tendencies to the dead novelist, who, he believes, is the only person in the world who can comprehend his pain. al-Daif's novel is both anguished and poignant as it exposes the chaotic conditions in war-torn Lebanon, where the conflict between religious convictions and modern Western influences have made even the home a battleground. Bonnie Johnston
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