A Lebanese man disappears and his young son goes on a Telemachus-like quest to find him.
Born to a German mother and Lebanese father, German poet Jarawan opens his debut novel with a lively portrait of life in an immigrant neighborhood in Germany, its rooftops studded with satellite-TV antennas pointing in every direction. Young Samir’s father, Brahim el-Hourani, is up on the roof, aiming his new antenna with the help of friendly Arabic-speaking neighbors (“Too far to the left and you’ll get Italian TV,” warns one), then cheerfully explaining to his 7-year-old boy how satellites work in relation to earthly beings. Brahim is full of stories, particularly of the pungent, entrancing smell of the cedar trees of their native Lebanon. (The German title of the novel translates to “In the End, the Cedars Remain.”) Brahim is also resolutely apolitical, saying, “We all came here because we want peace, not war. It’s not about Christians and Muslims here.” But, one day, Brahim, showing slides of their homeland, lingers on an image showing him in a strange uniform, inciting questions from his son and worried demands from his wife that he destroy the thing. Instead, Brahim vanishes, and a decade later his son is in Lebanon looking for some trace of meaning: What did that troubling image mean? Why did his father go? Jarawan has just the right touch on some of the finer details, as when he writes in Samir’s voice that he remembers the date Nov. 22, 2000, not because it was when he lost his virginity but “because that’s the day Mother died." His depiction of a Lebanon once torn apart by civil war is also well-nuanced, though, once stripped of these elements, the novel is overall a more or less standard procedural: Someone disappears, someone goes on the hunt, assembles clues, hears from many voices, and solves the mystery. In all that Jarawan is a competent but not yet distinguished storyteller, and the plotline predictable.
A middling story, then.