Book of the Month: Rabih Alameddine’s I, the Divine: A Novel in First Chapters

Count Leo Nikolayevitch Tolstoy lied. I did not know if all happy families resemble each other as I do not know any content families. In Lebanon during the war, however, all unhappy families were not unhappy in their own way. They suffered because at least one family member was killed. It did not matter why a family was unhappy before; death became the overpowering reason.
For our family, it was the death of Rana.
Rana was my half-sister, my stepmother’s eldest. She was born in May 1964 and died on July 7, 1978. (63)

 

Our book recommendation of the month is Rabih Almeddine’s I, the Divine: a Novel in First Chapters, set primarily in Beirut. A 2001 Arab American memoir in first chapters, tells a story of a red-haired artistic protagonist Sarah Nour El-Din, named after the divine Sarah Bernhardt by her grandfather. Sarah’s intention was to write her life story. However, she could not get far as she was baffled by both the mystery that lies in her hybrid family and the traces of war in Lebanon. Although her Lebanese father married her American mother out of love, they did not last and ended up getting a divorce. Sarah was torn apart between her father’s second marriage with his extended family and her displaced mother.

Sarah’s story of dislocation and disconnection is told in oddly positioned and eccentrically numbered chapters. Coming from a hybrid family and from a history permeated by colonialism, Sarah constantly felt neither here, nor there. Consistently feeling that she did not belong from beginning to end. Not only did she used to be the only girl in an all boys’ school, a child of an unsuited cultural marriage, but she also studied in a foreign place or city and ended up marrying a frigid man. Unfortunately, Sarah found it hard to connect the dots and put the pieces together in order to fit in and be understood. Yet, like her narrative, her life was scattered and broken. Home was never where she was.

It goes without saying that Almeddine’s masterpiece taught us how memory functions, and how it is constantly changing and moving forward. The way he managed to convey sadness, humor and warmth through Sarah’s perplexed journey of questioning her homeland is spellbinding. I highly recommend reading this eye-opening venture.

 

Almeddine, Rabih. 2001. I, the Divine. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.


ichraqchadli

BA in Cultural and Literary Studies. MA in Advanced English Studies: Languages and Cultures in Contact. PhD candidate. My fields of interests are: Postcolonial Studies, Cultural Studies, and Arab-American Studies.

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