The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine

The Hakawati

by Rabih Alameddine

2008. 528pages (Hardcover).

This copy from: Public Library

In a nutshell: Osama al-Kharrat returns to Lebanon to be at his dying father’s bedside.  Alameddine weaves in al-Kharrat’s family history with traditional Middle Eastern tales, including two lengthy, episode tales: tales of the courageous Fatima and tales of the slave prince Baybars.

Review: The length of the Hakawati was daunting, but I never felt that reading it was a chore, or something to slog through.  Not long into this book, I thought “now this is a natural storyteller.”  Alameddine’s writing has an effortless flow and is very vivid.  You can see the expressions on Osama’s sister’s face, or hear the dialogue of Fatima and the djinn.

There are many stories packed into the book, and many kinds.  There’s action, humor, tragedy and romance.  There were little stories inside other stories.  Some of the tales got a little crude for my tastes, especially the one involving Shams and Layl. But overall, I found the stories delightful in their variety and appealing characters.  I loved the legendary character of Fatima.

One of the things I most appreciated about the book is how immediately engrossing it was.  And it didn’t matter if I put it down for a few days and picked it back up – there was very little reacclimation needed.

Goodreads link

Other reviews (if you have one, let me know and I’ll add it):

Haiku Boxer

Leap in the Dark

Prof Mike’s Weblog

The Boston Bibliophile

Things I Can’t Live Without


Filed under Fantasy, Supernatural & Surreal, Historical Fiction

7 responses to “The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine

  1. Jason

    Very cool – and it’s world literature, which I enjoy. Looks like a book to read for next year. Has K. read it, since she’s been to that part of the world?
    Incidentally, I’ve finished Random Family. I found it an important read, but it wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. The sheer number of characters that crossed the page from the Bronx and Troy made it a challenge to follow, so I made sure to get down the main characters from each of the families (both Jessica and Cesar’s family, and Coco’s family). That said, it was an excellent overview of the challenges facing families in the inner-city, and I appreciate the note of hope it ended on. I’m looking forward to starting The City in the City first thing 2010.

    • K. hasn’t read it though her interest was piqued when I told her that the main character plays the oud as a child, an instrument she learned while in Jordan.

      I can definitely see how Random Family could fall into the “important” rather than “enjoyable” category for you. And it is a LOT of characters to be sure. The City and the City is a very different read – I hope you enjoy!

  2. I bought this one on a whim a month or two ago so it’s good to see a review that confirms my gut feeling that it is a lovely read. 🙂

  3. Totally shallow comment- what a gorgeous cover! I love it when a long book doesn’t feel like that… I’m really glad you enjoyed this.

    • I’m with you on the shallow end! I think ‘wow what a gorgeous cover’ might have been the final nudge to getting the book off the library shelf and into my check-out pile.

  4. I’ve been meaning to read this one – it is so pretty and it sounds so amazing. Plus I read this author’s earlier novel, I The Divine, which I absolutely loved. So I think this one must go on to my 2010 pile.

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