ARABESQUES by Anton Shammas


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Refreshing debut fiction, translated from the original Hebrew, intertwining the family history of an Arab Christian family with regional Palestinian lore. Through a network of memories, Shammas tells the story of an Arab Christian family currently living in a Galilean village. One memory hooks to another in an at-first random pattern covering the 1860's to the present, and the fragmented structure of juxtaposed time zones and images ultimately combines into a vivid portrait of Middle Eastern life. Influences of Catholicism, the modern Israeli military state, Beirut, and Palestinian history sift through this anecdotal history of the Shammas clan, and their family continuity and identity are further complicated by a wide streak of wanderlust running through the bloodlines. This last impulse gets the better of our narrator, who travels to Paris and then turns up in, of all places, Iowa City, to attend an international writers' conference. But family bonds prove stronger than the forces of dispersal, and Shammas' travels, instead of drawing him away from his past, lead him to the source of a family mystery in the form of a long-missing figure in the Shammas clan. Though Shammas himself at first appears to be the narrator, the missing link in the family story, with his own Shammas history in hand, turns out to be the source of much of this story's information, casting a reinterpretive light back over the text. Despite the largely unnecessary device of introducing a hidden narrator, a nonetheless vibrant and original portrayal of Middle Eastern life.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1988
Publisher: Harper & Row