The Storyteller by Pierre Jarawan
Translated by Sinead Crowe and Rachel McNicholl
Samir leaves the safety and comfort of his family’s new homeland, Germany, for volatile Beirut in an attempt to find his missing father. The only clues Samir has are an old picture of his father and the memory of the bedtime stories he used to tell. The Storyteller follows the turbulent search of a son for a father whose heart had always kept yearning for his homeland Lebanon. In this moving and engaging novel about family secrets, love, and friendship, Pierre Jarawan does for Lebanon what Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner did for Afghanistan. He pulls away the curtain of grim facts and figures portrayed in the media and shows an intimate truth of what it means to come from a country torn apart by civil war. With this beautiful and suspenseful story, full of images, Jarawan proves to be a masterful storyteller himself.
Guest Post ~
The Storyteller begins with a comic scene: Samir’s father Brahim tries to install a satellite dish on the roof of the house, making it point 26 degrees east in order to receive Lebanese TV programs. The longer it takes Brahim to get it to point in the right direction, the more neighbors come and make comments until, finally, Arabic music is heard coming from the living room window and everybody starts dancing. Samir, the boy whose father will disappear a few weeks later, says:
It was crazy. It was magical! At this moment, there was nothing that would have indicated we were living in Germany. This could have been a side street in Zahle, the city where Father was born at the foot of the Lebanon Mountains. Zahle, city of wine and poetry, city of writers and poets. Around us, nothing but Lebanese people, talking and eating and partying in Lebanese fashion.
There is a feeling of warmth and comfort in that scene. Samir, who was born in Germany after his parents had to leave Lebanon because of the Civil War, feels at home and he defines home as “Lebanese”.
When I started writing The Storyteller I wanted to write a novel about a family that is torn apart between two countries. And Samir to me is a typical representative of the second generation of immigrants we have in Germany, but also the UK and so many other countries. This generation did not make the decision to move to these countries themselves. It was made for them. I, myself, am part of that generation too. I consider myself lucky. My father is Lebanese, my mother is German. I learned the best from both worlds. When I got asked what country I considered my home, I always said: both.
Things are different for Samir. And in that respect he represents all the difficulties young men and women of that second generation can face. In most cases their parents keep glorifying their old home. They watch Lebanese (or Turkish or …) TV, eat Lebanese food, get together with other people from Lebanon with whom they speak Arabic… and the children? They end up asking themselves where home really is. Although they go to the neighborhood school, speak the local language better than their parents and have local friends, they experience difficulties in developing an identity. Samir’s father is a great storyteller. And while every child loves having a great storyteller as a father, in Samir’s case these stories cause him to face personal conflicts, because they are about an image of Lebanon which is presented to him in these stories as paradise on earth; they literally make him dream about living there.
Only many years later, when Samir sets foot in Lebanon for the first time in order to solve the riddle of his father’s disappearance which tore apart his family’s idyll twenty years ago, he learns that there is and always has been a dark side to his father’s stories about the country – a side that was never mentioned.
What’s happening in Europe with the current “refugee crisis” had an immediate effect on me. It was in 2015 when I composed the sentence “I am the son of refugees myself” for the first time in my life. I had never seen myself or my parents in this way. They never saw themselves or talked about themselves as refugees. We were simply a German-Lebanese-Family. Period. It’s kind of strange, that in times where “truth” has become a nebulous term people are fighting over, I started to see my family’s truth clearer than ever before.
If you would ask me if literature, if books, if stories have a secret super power, I would say: Yes! I could cite countless statistics about how many people died in a conflict or while crossing the Mediterranean in a small boat or about how many young men and women are part of that second generation of immigrant families and are experiencing similar difficulties as Samir. But it is most likely that this would not cause you to reflect. It is different with stories. Statistics live in the head, while stories reside in the heart. Ultimately it is in the heart that stories can change you, and your way of thinking.
The Storyteller by Pierre Jararwan and translated by Sinead Crowe and Rachel McNicholl is published by World Editions in paperback on 4 April 2019 at £11.99
***Don’t miss the other bloggers on the blog tour***