This spellbinding novel narrates the many layered recollections of a hallucinating man in devastated Beirut. The desolate, almost surreal, urban landscape is enriched by the unfolding of the family sagas of niqula Mitri and his beloved Shamsa, the Kurdish maid. Mitri reminisces about his Egyptian mother and his father who came back to settle in Beirut after a long stay in Egypt. Mitri and his father, both textile merchants, see the world through the cloth, from the intimacy of linen, velvet, and silk to the most impersonal synthetics. Shamsa in turn relates her story, the myriad adventures of her parents and grandparents who moved from lraqi Kurdistan to Beirut. Haunting scenes of pastoral Kurds are juxtaposed against the sedentary decadence of metropolitan residents.
Barakat weaves into her sophisticated narrative shreds of scientific discourse about herbal plants and textile crafts, customs and manners of Arabs, Armenians, and Kurds, mythological figures from ancient Greece, Mesopotamia, Phoenicia, and Arabia, the theosophy of the African Dogons and the medieval Byzantines, and historical accounts of the Crusades in the Holy Land and the silk route to China.
Hoda Barakat, an acclaimed Lebanese novelist, is one of the most original voices in modern Arabic literature. Born in Beirut in 1952, she graduated from Beirut University in 1975 with a degree in French language and literature. She later moved to Paris, where she now resides. She has worked as a teacher, translator and journalist. Her works, written in Arabic, have been translated into many languages.
She has published a collection of short stories, two plays, a journal and five novels one of which, The Stone of Laughter, won the Al-Naqid prize. Her third novel, The Tiller of Waters, won the 2000 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature and was published in English in 2001.
Barakat was decorated, in France, with Chevalier de l’ ordre des arts et des letters in 2002, and also Chevalier de l’ ordre du Merite National in 2008.
Marilyn Booth, the translator, received her DPhil in Arabic literature and modern Middle East history from St Antony’s college, Oxford University. She has translated numerous works of modern Arabic fiction, including The Open Door by Latifa Zayat (2000) and Leaves of Narcissus by Somaya Ramadan (2002). An avid weaver and spinner, she was delighted to find those passions entwined in this translation.
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