A HOUSE AT THE EDGE OF TEARS by Vénus Khoury-Ghata


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At home with a violent father in war-ravaged Lebanon.

Lebanese poet and novelist Khoury-Ghata, whose She Says (2003) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry, addresses a formative personal episode in this semi-autobiographical novel. With both her parents now dead, the author says she is free to evoke “a reign of terror,” the destruction of her poet brother’s mind by their father’s tyrannical treatment. The father himself was a haunted man, an ex-priest who broke his vows. Suicidal, believing himself cursed by the monastery, he was a figure of rage whose loathing for his son was as irrational as it was violent. The boy was expelled from the house for having nocturnal emissions and banished to a monastery. Escaping after three months, he took up with a fringe crowd, then became the lover of an elderly Englishwoman before fleeing to Paris, where he wrote poetry and became a drug addict. The father saw poetry as “an accursed genre that spread madness” and, upon the son’s return, had him incarcerated in an asylum. There, drugs, shock treatment and years of institutionalization slowly destroyed him. This narrative is spliced between stories of the family’s neighbors, who shared a group of five houses. There are magical-realist episodes—a weeping image of the Holy Virgin, the reappearance of a dead dog—and darker tales, like the death of a young mother in childbirth after her husband refuses medical intervention. The Lebanese civil war resulted in the brother’s release from the asylum. He returned to his mother’s love and to his father’s unyielding hostility. Khoury-Ghata’s postscript reveals that she and her sisters have taken up writing in honor of the brother who “had all his links with writing cut.”

A choppy mixture of style and content that touches some emotional chords.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2005
ISBN: 1-55597-434-1
Page count: 128pp
Publisher: Graywolf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 2005