The civil war between the 1970s and early ’90s in Lebanon provides both background and theme for this simultaneously impassioned and discursive story, presented as the delusional monologue of Rashid, a Lebanese revolutionary who is mortally wounded during the war’s final days. Rashid’s thoughts are addressed to the eponymous Japanese novelist who committed suicide in 1972. They’re a mélange of family and personal history, diatribes against any centralized authority that preempts personal liberties, and speculations on ways in which memory shapes character and influences fate, and the morality of suicide. The best pages—which are often very good indeed—vividly portray Rashid’s intellectual growth (Yuri Gagarin’s orbital flight, for example, confirms his comprehension that the Earth is round) and quest for independence, and especially the memorable personalities of his intemperate father and courageously longsuffering mother.
In other words, whenever (Rashid) al-Daif isn’t lecturing Kawabata (and us), he proves himself an impressively gifted novelist.