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KOOLAIDS by Rabih Alameddine

KOOLAIDS

The Art of War

By Rabih Alameddine

Pub Date: May 20th, 1998
ISBN: 0-312-18693-2
Publisher: Picador

This emotionally charged first novel by a Lebanese-American writer and artist is an impressionistic collage that skillfully juxtaposes its gay protagonists’ defiant encounters with AIDS, the embattled recent history of Lebanon during its own civil war and “the Israeli siege of Beirut,” and more general permutations of estrangement from society, family, and nation. Alameddine’s characters (who are, unfortunately, not always clearly distinguished) include a Lebanese matriarch whose diary records the sufferings of her kindred throughout a 30-year span of political turmoil, several variously involved San Franciscans during that city’s own plague years, and—most crucially—a painter whose garishly violent canvases are calculated distortions of his Lebanese homeland’s chaotic past and present. The “novel” assembles summaries of that history together with journal excerpts, letters, poems, discursive statements often framed as aphorisms (“in America, I fit, but I do not belong. In Lebanon, I belong, but I do not fit”), and aborted literary works. If we’re occasionally unsure who’s speaking (or being addressed), there’s no mistaking the book’s furious argumentative energy here--whether its scattershot wit takes the form of mocking allusions to the biblical Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse; a rudely satirical playlet whose characters include Eleanor Roosevelt, Krishnamurti, Julio Cortaz†r, and (a probably gay) Tom Cruise; imaginary conversations with eminent writers (Borges, Coover, and Updike among them); or parodies whose subjects range from Middle Eastern scriptures to American movies and TV shows (one of The Waltons is particularly droll). Alameddine stumbles when fulminating nakedly against American materialism and heterosexual hypocrisy--yet some of his baldest declarations are among his finer effects (for example, an HIV-positive protagonist’s lament that “nothing in my life is up to me”). A wildly uneven, but powerful and original portrayal of cultural and sexual displacement, alienation, and--in its admirably gritty way--pride. (Author tour)