حارث المياه، هدى بركات / The Tiller of Waters, Hoda Barakat

For August we’re reading حارث المياه، هدى بركات / The Tiller of Waters by Lebanese author Hoda Barakat, which won the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature in 2000. It was translated by Marilyn Booth.

A summary of the book from AUC Press:
“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.”

Here is a ‘one-minute’ review on M. Lynx Qualey’s blog Arab Lit in English, thoughts from Read Kutub’s book club discussion, and an interview with Hoda Barakat in Al-Ahram Weekly.

If you can get your hands on a paper copy of Banipal 9, check out Anton Shammas’ editorial on Hoda Barakat, At Eye-Level a Tiller of (Masculine) Souls, which describes the novel as “an unflinchingly analytical look, reading and constantly unpacking what has become of her war-torn world, where nothing is permanent – boundaries, identities, sexualities and all.”

We’ll meet to discuss on Monday, August 9th 2010.

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