The “confession” of an ingenuous, conflicted foot soldier in Lebanon’s recent (1975–90) civil war forms the complex subject of this 2002 novel from that country’s internationally acclaimed author (Gate of the Sun, 2006, etc.).
The book is composed of multiple narratives which complement and contradict one another, as accused terrorist Daniel Jal’u (nicknamed “Yalo”) writes successive versions of his life story, under orders from his captors. We gradually learn that Yalo, whose father abandoned his wife and child, grew up among Beirut’s minority population in a house ruled by his “Black Grandfather,” a choleric priest, and shared with Yalo’s passive Lebanese mother Gaby, involved in a fruitless affair with a married tailor. Yalo gradually emerges as a slow-witted follower who drifts into the army and flees it when a duplicitous comrade persuades him to commit robbery and escape to Paris. He eludes prosecution when a wealthy attorney (and secret arms dealer) hires him as a guard at his lavish Beirut villa—then stumbles into the dreamlike commission of rape and robbery (to Yalo, these crimes seem romantic exploits) and is subjected to false allegations of his involvement in “planting explosives and killing innocent people.” Khoury wrests real poignancy from Yalo’s ignorance of the truth of his own experiences, subtly arranging this luckless character’s acquaintances and relationships into a nagging pattern of infatuation and engagement, estrangement, rejection and guilt. Both innocent victim and violent oppressor, Yalo sorts through his roiling memories, testing one possible story against another, omitting incriminating details only to acknowledge their crucial relevance—eventually becoming estranged even from himself, in a surreal climax that follows the rejection of his very confession.
Khoury’s unsparing portrayal of a man without a country, a history or even an identity dominates this deceptively intricate novel.