Saturday, March 22, 2014

Serendipitous Reading

Sometimes these things just happen. Two (or more) books that just seem to go together appear on my reading stand at the same time. This can be an uncomfortable coincidence (see my last post) or it can be fun.

Here's a fun one.  At the library a couple of weeks ago I picked up The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine because I liked his Unnecessary Woman so much. At about the same time The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker showed up on my online library holds. So there they sat, one on my Kindle and one on my side table, both with similar due dates.

So when I finished my grim IFFP reads, I turned to these two sensing that they would be a little lighter.

These two books go together. I alternated between them until I got a notice that the Wecker book was almost due. So I finished it first because it can't be renewed and the other one can. I'm halfway through through The Hakawati.

The similarities:
Both books deal with Middle Eastern legends and magic. Jinni and other mythical creatures abound, often out of their elements.

The differences:
The Wecker book is a pretty straightforward fantasy novel, set in New York in the late 1800s with flashbacks to earlier times in the desert. Alameddine's novel is somewhat autobiographical and is set in modern day Beirut with the old tales interspersed with the narrator's family history. The narrator has come to Beirut from his current home in Los Angeles to see his dying father.

The verdict:
A Hakawati is a story teller and these two authors are really good story tellers. This is Wecker's first novel (she took seven years to write it) and it is a well polished debut novel. I hope to see more from her.

Alameddine had already made his mark when he wrote this novel. It was written before An Unnecessary Woman and, other than both being set in Beirut, there is little similarity between the two. Hence, it is impossible to say one is better than the other. But this variety is what makes me want to read more of his work.

Both books are great reads and provided the hoped for relief from the darkness of Back to Back and The Dark Road.

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