Book Review: 'The Mehlis Report'

Jul 1, 2013
Originally published on July 1, 2013 6:15 pm

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

Our book reviewer Alan Cheuse is excited to introduce the work of Rabee Jaber. He lives in Lebanon, and his novel "The Mehlis Report" takes place there. In Beirut, the characters await the real Mehlis report, which analyzed the watershed moment in Lebanon, the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: First of all, this novel is a bittersweet love song to Beirut. The main character, Saman Yarid, is an architect with a heart problem and a yearning for an end to the political and military agonies of his home city. Yarid meanders here and there and everywhere, from the newest office building to the oldest parks and alleys, and everything in between, soaking up the atmosphere of his beloved home, spending time with girlfriends, smoking in cafes.

Like most of the inhabitants of this wounded city, he's waiting for the Mehlis report to come out and assign blame in the Hariri murder. Along the way, Saman begins to get mysterious telephone calls, which we learn come from his late sister Josephine, who disappeared in a kidnapping at the Green Line during the civil war. Still covered in blood from the beating that killed her, at one point, Josephine describes the moment when she meets her grandfather in the land of the dead and realizes that she, too, belongs there.

I opened my eyes and saw the place was growing darker, she says. The moon was gone, but a handful of stars had appeared in the sky. Stars and clouds and fog. The fog was seething like milk on fire. I saw it rise and swallow the stars one after the other. We were moving. My grandfather was carrying me in his arms. And by this time, this novel, this elegy for a lost Beirut, past and future, this novel was carrying me to a place I had never been before.

CORNISH: The novel is "The Mehlis Report" by Rabee Jaber. It was translated into English by Kareem James Abu-Zeid. Our reviewer is Alan Cheuse. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.