Monday, December 06, 2004

Review of Rabih Alameddine's I, the Divine

I decided to take a chance on Alameddine's other book, despite the fact that I really did not like his first one. This time persistence paid off. I, the Divine is a much better book.

It is a novel in first chapters. It is written from the standpoint of Sarah Nour el-din, a woman who keeps telling us the story of her life over and over. There is an anecdote in the story where Sara wants a particular painting she sees in a museum. So she decides to replicate the painting. It takes her 17 tries to get the painting right, and then the whole series gets exhibited as a history of the making of the painting, in chronological order. This book, written as her autobiography, is the same way. It is a collection of first chapters in her autobiography. Each time she has a new way of looking at her life, as if she can't make up her mind what is important. What sort of events should she tell about. Is her relationship to her mother most important, her brother, her first sexual encounter, her grandfather, her birth, her lovers, her child? So each time she writes the first chapter, we see a new angle of her life. The effect is rather good, and not nearly as pretentious as it sounds.

The book has no traditional plot, other than Sarah's life. Sara is Lebanese. She is a mother. She is a lover. She is part of a family, a friend, a player in a series of relationships, she exists in a social hierarchy, which is all conveyed well in the book. Her whole life is articulated, in a successive series of false starts in an attempt to convey her life.

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