Elias Khoury

The Broken Mirrors

Take your pick, but either Karim Shammas, who has returned to Beirut from France, or his father, Nasri, are the most memorable philanderers to have graced the pages of a novel bursting  through the seams of recent history since Milan Kundera unveiled Tomas in The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

Like Tomas, both Karim and Nasri have access to a conveyor belt of lovers because they are practitioners of medicine: a common thread runs through both novels, a typical Kundera theme, namely the lightness of love and sex, and that which occurs once is unlikely to repeat itself.

Why does Karim forsake the safety of France for a city still reeling from a vicious civil war? Is it to kick over the traces of old love affairs or to establish the truth about his father’s death? Is his brother, the less than sharp and once make-believe pharmacist, Nasim, in any way complicit?

Khoury was born into a Christian family in Beirut where he fought, and was injured, during the protracted and bloody Lebanese Civil War. He is the author of over a dozen novels, was a researcher for the PLO, has a background in journalism, and his latest novel is translated by the award winning Humphrey Davies.

What is beautiful and immediate about Khoury’s prose is his depiction of Beirut, easily on a par with Pamuk and Istanbul or Marc Pastor and Barcelona: there is a shifting of the tenses as characters appear and disappear whilst the weft of the tale of Karim’s return untangles.

Those who are dead are very much alive, and Khoury never misses an opportunity to fill in the background of even  minor characters, and gradually the pieces slot into their place in the jigsaw: who is the legendary phantom of the civil war, known as the ghost? What is to be discovered about the death of his father? What has yet to surface from past love affairs?

 

 

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