Rabih Alameddine with Michael David Lukas and R.O. Kwon
One of our favorite, and one of our most necessary literary writers at work today, Rabih Alameddine, makes this welcome Elliott Bay return in virtual form to read from and discuss his brilliant new novel, The Wrong End of the Telescope (Grove Press). Here the National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award finalist for An Unnecessary Woman, as well The Hakawati, I, the Divine, and others, again tells the story of a singular woman.
“Alameddine’s spectacular novel is rendered through the refreshingly honest lens of Dr. Mina. A trans woman, born the third son of a traditional Lebanese family, she leaves Beirut for Harvard ... Over the years she comes into her own as a skillful and empathetic physician. In her 50s, she travels to Lesbos to volunteer among the refugees who wash ashore; looking like aunts or cousins from back home, they carry garbage bags of broken treasures along with countless stories and unspeakable loss. Dr. Mina is the storyteller the refugees deserve: respected by the Europeans, but steeped in their traditions and history … This is the first novel I’ve read that gives ample room to the ugliness of certain camp volunteers (the bored, the coddled, those battling pangs of uselessness) and the many humiliations some inflict on the displaced … Alameddine’s irreverent prose evokes the old master storytellers from my own Middle Eastern home, their observations toothy and full of wit, returning always to human absurdity ... Again and again, Dr. Mina cracks open the strange, funny and cruel social mores of East and West. She shows us that acceptance and rejection exist across borders and often manifest in surprising ways. I will never forget a passage about a beloved Syrian village doctor, who, to evade ISIS’ strict rules on separation of the sexes, visits each house twice, once as a man and once in drag (a niqab) to treat the women. Throughout the book, Dr. Mina addresses a blocked and disillusioned Lebanese writer who, having seen too much displacement and horror, finally breaks. I found this mysterious unnamed listener deeply poignant. In part, Alameddine is speaking to us storytellers, the ones who carry our people’s narratives westward, who shape how they’re seen (and used) by those in power. ‘Literature today is an opiate,’ he warns, while ‘memory is a wound.’ - Dina Nayeri, New York Times Book Review.
Making what should be a splendid evening even more so will be the virtual presence of novelists R.O. Kwon, author of The Incendiaries and co-editor of Kink, and Michael David Lukas, author of The Oracle of Stamboul and The Last Watchman of Old Cairo, joining Rabih Alameddine in conversation.