Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Hikayat: A collection of Lebanese Short Stories

A part of the Contemporary Fiction paper is to explore a new area of fiction, and I chose Lebanese Writing. The only collection I had easy access to was this book- Hikayat. It is a collection of short stories by Lebanese women- the first generation writers and the second generation writers. 

The book has a comprehensive introduction highlighting the literary history of the Middle-east, Lebanon  in particular. The stories explore relationships, war, refugee status, love and the breaking up of families. 

The stories are poignant and have a distinct flavour. While the first generation women writers talk about domestic problems, religion, rules and war, the younger generation- with writers like Rima Alamuddin, Zeina Ghandour and Hala Alyan talk of a different Lebanon. The stories are imaginative and describe independent women; women who love art, women who are living by themselves. They assert their identity and occupy the entire narrative space. And have such imaginative titles to the stories. 

Some of the stories I really liked were:

A Spaceship to the Moon- (Can't remember author's name)

A Pomegranate Notebook- (can't remember author's name)

The Cellist- Rima Alamuddin

Painted Reflections - Hala Alyan

Omega: Definition- Zeina Ghandour

If you like Middle-east or Iranian movies, or Palestinian movies you would definitely want to try this book. 

Like Water for Chocolate- Laura Esquivel

It is such an endearing story. Written in  12 chapters, one for each month and a recipe at the beginning of each chapter it  chronicles the lives of five women; their search for the love of their lives and the cruel reality in which they live.

The narrative is beautiful and seamlessly blends the cooking-life with the non-cooking life. The metaphors are so unique and different, it is all about the cooking; the oils, the onions, the rose-petals and the magical tears that can fill up an entire reserve of salt.

The story is set in Mexico, soon after the Mexican revolution and has the story of three sisters (Tita, Gertrude and R) ,their domineering mother Mama Elena and their cooks Nacha and Chencha. Each of these women fall in love- and each of these women have their hearts broken. It is impossible for them to just be happy. 

And you should read this book if you like Mexico, stories about women, love, recipe and cooking (from what Senior S said, I think most recipes are cook-able), and Magical Realism. Tita literally cries rivers, she knits a humongous quilt to keep herself warm, and Ox-tail soup relieves her! So exotic and refreshing and heart-breaking.