"I KNOW MANY SONGS, BUT I CANNOT SING" by Brian Kiteley
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"I KNOW MANY SONGS, BUT I CANNOT SING"

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Kiteley's second is as associative as his first (Still Life with Insects, 1989) was focused--in a story following one evening and night in the life of a young American living in Cairo, where he does research and teaches history. Things begin as Ib (a Danish derivation, one learns, of Jacob) returns to Cairo from Massachusetts and his stepfather's funeral. It's the last week of Ramadan, when daylong fasting produces giddiness and a touch of the surreal--perfectly suited to Kiteley's narrative, where things often feel half true, are mentioned but then forgotten, or start and seem never to conclude. Ib gets latched onto at the outset by a hyperenergetic actor and writer named Gamal, of Armenian background, who remains Ib's companion from first page to last--rushing through unknown streets, from one cafe to another, to a theater for rehearsal, to visit Gamal's parents-in-law, to a prison for an ""interview"" with a jailed fundamentalist, and finally to a country house on desert's edge, where, at dawn, the story ends, with symbols, incidents, and words fluttering down slowly in a pitch-perfect, exquisite close. For some, patience may be needed in getting to that end through the interwoven uncertainties of this poetic and oriental tale, but to be enjoyed along the way are the amusing Tory, Charles Mattimore; the beautiful Safeyya and Ruqayyah, wife and sister-in-law of Gamal; Annah¡d, Gamal's four-year-old daughter, who eats a poison plant but lives to tell the tale; and, not least, the perfectly toned non-stories told throughout (as per title), mainly by Gamal, and written down by Ib, an activity appropriate to"" 'the holiest night of Ramadan, when the archangel Gabriel first whispered the word of God to Mohammad.'"" Not as surefooted at the start as toward the end: but, in all, a rare and lovely treasure of feelings and words from a writer who's very far from the ordinary indeed.

Pub Date: Jan. 23rd, 1996
ISBN: 0743237595
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster