Thursday, August 6, 2015

On the Coffee Table: Ameen Rihani

Title: The Book of Khalid
Author: Ameen Rihani
via Amazon
As discussed in previous entries, poetry is the heart of the Arabic literary tradition.  Even a work of prose such as The Book of Khalid tends more towards lyrical rhapsody than compelling narrative.  Ameen Rihani's 1911 novel is generally considered to be the first by an Arab-American.

Khalid and his faithful friend Shakib emigrate to the United States, then return to Lebanon.  Their story provides perspective on the New York immigrant experience as well as the rapidly changing Arab world of the era.  With the repressive Ottoman Empire in long, slow decline and the dilemmas presented by Western influence, Khalid's world reflects centuries' old cultural conflicts still alive and well a hundred years later: East/West, New/Old, Science/Spirit, Muslim/Christian, Heart/Soul.  Rihani's language is genuinely stunning.  If all one wants is to lie back and marvel at its beauty, there's plenty to enjoy.

But it's not what I want.  I wish to be so caught up in a book that I forget I'm reading.  I long to be transported, rather than dazzled.  I willingly concede The Book of Khalid's great literary merit.   But I'm glad to be able to move onto something else.

18 comments:

  1. It sounds interesting, to me. He must have been a contemporary of Kahlil Gibran

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Actually, Gibran did chapter heading illustrations for the book.

      Delete
  2. I don't know much about him but I do like poetry on occasion. My real love is science fiction though, so it would be a hard book for me to get through too.

    ReplyDelete
  3. That sounds like how I felt about Casual Vacancy by Rowling. Really well written but hard to read.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's about right. It just never quite hooked me.

      Delete
  4. Sometimes we can appreciate the words and the beauty of the writing, but we aren't swept into the story, This has happened to me and when I am doing too much thinking I am sometimes not falling into the book. Hope your next read takes you away. :)
    ~Jess

    ReplyDelete
  5. I will have to get this book! I studied two years of Arabic in school and try keeping up with it. Arabic poetry is just so beautiful!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My wife studied Arabic, too, which is why we have such books in the house.

      Delete
    2. It's such a beautiful language! Once I get a full time job, I want to ask my former professor if she can tutor me. I'm thinking I might eventually get certified in the language and maybe combine it with my English degree. It's been on my mind lately.

      Delete
    3. Do you have a family connection? That was the draw for my wife. She wanted to be able to speak it with her Lebanese grandfather, only to discover he spoke a different dialect from the one she was learning. She loved studying it anyway.

      Delete
  6. It sounds so beautiful but one has to be captivated by it. Glad you appreciate the book even if it wasn't your cup of tea

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A lot of it truly is beautiful. Just not what I seek.

      Delete
  7. "Long, slow decline" is a perfect description of the empire's downward path.

    Don't you hate it when you aren't excited by a book but you can't put it down unfinished? ARGHHH! It's the literary equivalent of the "plate cleaner" who eat everything on the plate, even if they aren't hungry.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It wasn't so bad that I couldn't finish it. I do, on occasion, come across a book that isn't worth the time but this wasn't it.

      Delete
  8. Looks intriguing. I just downloaded the Kindle edition.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I would be very interested to know what you think.

      Delete