The Hakawati

Publisher: Anchor Canada
An astonishingly inventive, wonderfully exuberant novel that takes us from the shimmering dunes of ancient Egypt to the war-torn streets of twenty-first-century Lebanon.

In 2003, Osama al-Kharrat returns to Beirut after many years in America to stand vigil at his father’s deathbed. The city is a shell of the Beirut Osama remembers, but he and his friends and family take solace in the things that have always sustained them: gossip, laughter, and, above all, stories.

Osama’s grandfather was a hakawati, or storyteller, and his bewitching stories–of his arrival in Lebanon, an orphan of the Turkish wars, and of how he earned the name al-Kharrat, the fibster–are interwoven with classic tales of the Middle East, stunningly reimagined. Here are Abraham and Isaac; Ishmael, father of the Arab tribes; the ancient, fabled Fatima; and Baybars, the slave prince who vanquished the Crusaders. Here, too, are contemporary Lebanese whose stories tell a larger, heartbreaking tale of seemingly endless war–and survival.

Like a true hakawati, Rabih Alameddine has given us an Arabian Nights for this century–a funny, captivating novel that enchants and dazzles from its very first lines: “Listen. Let me take you on a journey beyond imagining. Let me tell you a story.”

From the Hardcover edition.


Listen. Allow me to be your god. Let me take you on a journey beyond imagining. Let me tell you a story.

A long, long time ago, an emir lived in a distant land, in a beautiful city, a green city with many trees and exquisite gurgling fountains whose sound lulled the citizens to sleep at night. Now, the emir had...
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1. The novel opens with the tale of an emir and his wife who have twelve daughters and seek the aid of their slave, Fatima the Egyptian, to help them have a son. This family tale runs parallel, for much of the book, to the story of Osama and his family. What links, if any, do you see between these major plotlines?

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“An epic in the oldest and newest senses. Careening from the Koran to the Old Testament, Homer to Scheherazade, it’s hard to imagine the person who wouldn’t get carried away.”
— Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

“Both genius and genie out of the ink bottle, a glorious, gorgeous masterpiece of pure storytelling and fable-making.”
— Amy Tan, author of The Joy Luck Club

“Wonderful. The Hakawati fed me, like a good nourishing soup spooned into a hungry mouth: I was hungry for all of its rich, delicious narratives. A terrific novel.”
— Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard Out of Carolina

The Hakawati is not only a dazzlingly funny book, not only a heart-breakingly beautiful book, it is a downright necessary book in this deeply troubled new century. . . . This is a great and enduring book.”
— Robert Olen Butler, author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain

“A rollicking good read. Bawdy, allusive, sad, funny and universal in its themes, yet with a finely observed sense of place, The Hakawati is a splendid achievement.”
The Globe and Mail

“If any work of fiction might be powerful enough to transcend the mountain of polemic, historical inquiry, policy analysis and reportage that stands between the Western reader and the Arab soul, it’s this wonder of a book. Alameddine has a genius for the emotional hinges on which novels turn. . . . Stunning.”
The New York Times

“[A] tour de force . . . The Hakawati moves effortlessly between the classic narrative traditions of The Thousand and One Nights and the psychology of modern Western fiction.”
The Independent (UK)

From the Hardcover edition.