Magnetic memoirs of a poet raised in a poor Lebanese village who betters himself through education.
With whimsical prose and a dreamy eye, Ajami describes his life in Saghbine, the small mountain village where he was born: the celebratory gunfire at a wedding, townspeople summoning the village crier to call for their missing priest, his father swearing that he’d come upon a genie. In one particular tale, his mother unknowingly entices a snake to her side with the smell of eggs in olive oil. The author’s lighthearted, fabulist tone continues even during graduate school in a decidedly less picturesque New York City: â€œAs soon as I set foot inside the roaches swished aside, opening a pathway wide enough to allow me to walkâ€¦The truly artistic among them had arranged themselves on the walls in fabulous designs, while others handled the mundane aspects of life, each according to its talents and capabilities.” Ajami’s family knows plenty about suffering, and even his description of his father’s physical pain carries a certain bouyant quality: â€œâ€¦the pain began to smoke out of my father’s body and blend with the smoke of the gamblers’ cigars and cigarettes.” Much of the book honors Ajami’s father, who was abandoned to poverty as a baby. Having taught himself to read and write, he gave his children the love of song and poetry. Ajami himself eventually went on to obtain an Ivy League doctorate and raise a family of his own. His rendering of the struggle for a better existence and the tragedies encountered along the way is moving and uplifting.
An enchanting and heartbreaking account of an inspiring journey.