Sunday 25 June 2017

Love in Exile, 1995, Bahaa Taher *****

The title of this novel is misleading, of course love is one of the  themes discussed. However, I must say that it is a highly political read heavily based on the Sabra and Shatila Massacre that occurred in 1982.  The narrator is a journalist who leaves his homeland in Egypt and flees to Geneva where he works from, leaving behind his estranged wife and children. He tells us about his life in Swiss followed by the story of Pedro Ibañez's torture and the killing of his brother in Chile, as it was believed that they were supporters of the socialist president Salvador Allende. That is when he met Brigitte the woman he fell in love with, who is also living in exile. 

As the story unfolds, we find out that Brigitte was once married to a political refugee from Equatorial Guinea, however their love couldn't survive the height of racism in her home country, Austria.

While, the narrator is living in exile, civil war breaks out in Lebanon. Tension between Israel and Palestine is high. Israel used the attempted assassination of
its ambassador to Britain as casus belli to invade Lebanon where PLO fighters are allegedly located (Palestine Liberation Organisation), during their invasion thousands of civilians are murdered in  refugee camps in Sabra and Shatila. No journal in Europe wants to broadcast the news in so as not to be considered anti-semitic. This is when the narrator tries to use his connections as a journalist to tell the world about the atrocity going on in Lebanon.

He met an Arab prince, ridiculously rich, who you would think might be interested in defending Pan-Arabism, however, he is only interested in making more money and strongly believes that everyone has a price tag. The narrator also talks about European nurses who risk their lives volunteering in Lebanon during the war, he asks himself where are the volunteers from the Arab countries, somewhat a cry for unity within the Arab nations.

There are so many interesting characters in this novel; Ibrahim the narrator's friend and journalist based in Lebanon. Yusuf a young and handsome Egyptian who is in a relationship with an older Elaine just because of his immigrant status. Bernard a Swiss journalist who finally decides to publish about the Sabra and Shatila massacre and might have to live the rest of his life constantly looking over his shoulders, afraid of his life and that of his son. The relationship the narrator establishes with his wife and children through phone calls and letters. Finally, Dr. Muller, the man who is a lover to Brigitte's mother.

This a novel that I highly recommend. Insightful, enlightening and knowledgeably written. It somewhat reflects what is happening today in the Arab nations. Winner of the Arabic Booker Prize. The translator did a fantastic job. Love in Exile is originally written in Arabic.

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  1. Sounds very interesting. Any book that throws light on these upheavals in our modern world is certainly up my alley.


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