New paperback edition This spellbinding novel narrates the many-layered recollections of a hallucinating man in devastated Beirut. The desolate, almost surreal, urban landscape is enriched by the unfolding of the family sagas of Niqula Mitri and his beloved Shamsa, the Kurdish maid. Mitri reminisces about his Egyptian mother and his father who came back to settle in Beirut after a long stay in Egypt. Both Mitri and his father are textile merchants and see the world through the code of cloth, from the intimacy of linen, velvet, and silk to the most impersonal of synthetics. Shamsa in turn relates her story, the myriad adventures of her parents and grandparents who moved from Iraqi Kurdistan to Beirut. Haunting scenes of pastoral Kurds are juxtaposed against the sedentary decadence of metropolitan residents. Barakat weaves into her sophisticated narrative shreds of scientific discourse about herbal plants and textile crafts, customs and manners of Arabs, Armenians, and Kurds, mythological figures from ancient Greece, Mesopotamia, Phoenicia, and Arabia, the theosophy of the African Dogons and the medieval Byzantines, and historical accounts of the Crusades in the Holy Land and the silk route to China.
Born in Beirut, Hoda Barakat earned her B.A. in French language and literature from Beirut University in 1975, and in 1976 left for Paris to continue her education. She then worked in higher education, journalism, and research. She is the author of a collection of short stories and two other novels, one of which, The Stones of Laughter, was published in an English translation in 1994. She now lives in Paris.
Marilyn Booth received her D.Phil. in Arabic literature and modern Middle East history from St. Antony’s College, Oxford University. She has translated numerous works of modern Arabic fiction, including The Open Door by Latifa al-Zayyat (AUC Press, 2000), and Leaves of Narcissus by Somaya Ramadan (AUC Press, 2002).