The Stone of Laughter

Huda Barakat, Author, Sophie Bennett, Translator
Huda Barakat, Author, Sophie Bennett, Translator Interlink Publishing Group $12.95 (240p) ISBN 978-1-56656-190-7
Hardcover - 240 pages - 978-1-56656-197-6
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This is the story of a person. It is also a story of a population, and of a war. It reads as grotesque fantasy, where traditional assumptions can be fatal, consequences no longer make sense and the most commonplace social act may conceal lethal betrayal. In 14 years of civil war, which left Beirut's glories ravished and its cosmopolitan society devastated, the grotesque becomes mundane. Disoriented amid the chaos, Khalil questions his every thought and impulse as he grasps for an identity, sexuality and teleology-his internal dialogue is the warp of this narrative. Retreating into desperate isolation when the two men he covertly loves are killed, Khalil is paralyzed by guilt and fear. His despair brings illness and a minor epiphany in the hospital, where he awakens, in the book's most impressionistic and fluidly crafted sequence, to the value and beauty of life. Barakat allows Khalil this illumination, a lambent moment of hope, so that she may quickly shatter it. Khalil's dizzying descent to an inhumanity as perverse and cruel as it is mad, seems incomprehensible. Khalil's tormented mind, his betrayal of newly discovered selfhood reflects the unendurable stress provoked by such war. The frightening results, and the fragility of civilization, is the kernel of this cautionary tale, told too late for young men like Khalil. (Mar.)
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