Top positive review
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on March 29, 2021
A quick summary that does not do this book justice:
Lebanese family patriarch and heart surgeon, Idris (now living in California), decides to sell his childhood home after the death of his father. Idris’ far-flung family gathers in Beirut for a belated memorial and to duke it out over the contentious sale of the house. With everyone under one roof for the first time in years, the various complications of the family’s relationships predictably come to a head.
I loved this book so much. I happily ate it up but was also anxious when I was almost finished because I wanted SO MUCH more. Every single character in this book was wonderfully drawn. In most novels with alternating perspectives, I generally look forward to one character’s sections more than others (or occasionally I dread one). That was not the case here, I loved everyone. There is a passage in that describes perfectly how I feel about the book:
“Films make people sad, Mazna is slowly understanding. They remind people of a time that is over or a time they’ve never been part of. Even the happier films, like Sabrina and The Wizard of Oz, sadden her; she will never go to those glossy dinner parties, see those Technicolor skies.”
I am so sad that I will never be a part of this family!
I was not aware the author (Hala Alyan) was a poet, but it makes perfect sense after reading lines like these:
“There was a lyric he almost wrote once but didn’t; he knew it would get him in trouble. It was about Harp’s eyes, how sometimes they looked like the scales of a fish he should’ve returned to the water.”
“Fee looks at her with that grateful expression and Naj remembers rather than notices the freckles spattered across her nose.”
I always love generational trauma as a theme in books, and it is definitely present here. The Body Keeps the Score is a book that taught me so much, and these lines were a beautiful callback to that book for me (and also nods to the author’s psychology background):
“Naj dangles a leg out in front of her, rotates her ankle. She broke it years ago, and it still hurts sometimes. That’s because the body does a lot of remembering for us, her father once told her.”
“What does it mean?” she asks. “My hand on my throat.” “We carry our guilt there,” Kit says. “The guilt of what we’ve done and the guilt of what’s been done to us.”
I wouldn’t change a single thing about this story, but the final revelation from Idris in the last section of the book (no spoilers here) really did break my heart. How different would everyone’s lives have been with a little more honesty? Obviously, it wouldn’t have been the same book. The deceptions were necessary in order to explore the themes of guilt, atonement, and unconditional love. But along with each character, it was a little bittersweet to consider “What if?”
There was one thing that drove me absolutely bonkers, however. Typos. I flipped back and forth between an eGalley and a finished copy of this book, and they were present in both. I think it is really a shame how many times I came across the word Mazda in place of the character name Mazna. It happens at least five times. A simple find and replace would have gone a long way. It seems like it's an unfortunate case of AutoCorrect not recognizing a name and changing it to a similar and common brand name (which is why I’m guessing it did not also happen to names like Idris and Zakaria and Rayan??). There were a few other errors as well, but the Mazna/Mazda error was especially tragic, especially since the errors made it into the finished copy.
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy!