Monday, January 19, 2009

Echoes of a Scream

I just finished The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine, a Lebanese American writer, painter and one-time engineer. This is a fabulous book, exploring modern and ancient Arab, Muslim, and Lebanese life and culture. It is filled with wonderful stories -- myths, fables, lessons -- woven into each other like the many peoples who made Beirut such an interesting melting pot in the years before its civil war.

Much of the mythological portion of the book is the long tale of the great Sultan Baybars, who rose from slavery to dominion over all of the Islamic world. He is opposed by Arbusto, who tries, and fails, many times to prompt the overthrow of the ruler he feels has unjustly taken the throne.

At one point, in trying to inspire an army to victory, he offers a familiar-sounding speech:
"This is the city of Aleppo," Arbusto said. "Not only are we going to thrash them here, we are going to Damascus and Homs and Hamah, and we going to Baghdad and Mosul and Jerusalem, then we are going to Cairo to take back the sultanate. Yeeeeaaaah."
In fact, this speech, or one very like it, appears twice in the book.

Interestingly, towards the end of the book it becomes clear that Baybars is, in fact, an unjust king and the many stories of his glory are ancient public-relations efforts.

Echoes within echoes.

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