Always Coca-Cola: A Novel

Alexandra Chreiteh, Author, Hartman Michel, Translator
Alexandra Chreiteh, trans. from the Arabic by Michelle Hartman. Interlink, $25 (126p) ISBN 978-1-56656-873-9
Paperback - 121 pages - 978-1-56656-843-2
Open Ebook - 120 pages - 978-1-62371-005-7
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When university student Abeer Ward looks out the window of her Beirut bedroom, she sees a giant Coca-Cola ad across the street featuring her best friend Yana. The influence of the Occident persists not only in the billboard—and Abeer’s Coke-bottle-shaped birthmark—, but in the choices she and her friends make. Naïve, demure, and obedient, Abeer blends into the background compared to Yana, and similarly, Abeer’s very real problems tend to be given short shrift in relation to Yana’s unplanned pregnancy. Abeer’s name means “fragrant rose,” and like the flower, she feels that her value depends on beauty and purity. Living in fear that one wrong move will garner her father’s and society’s disapproval, she won’t use a tampon for fear that doing so would sully her virginity. Chreiteh’s character development and figurative language is strong, and there are moments of humor, but this debut—like its narrator—is not quite ready to face the world. Pacing issues persist: four pages are spent on an impending menstrual period, while Abeer’s crucial moment earns only a page, and the ending is rushed. The language is sometimes overly formal, though translator Hartman notes in her afterward that Chreiteh chose to write in Modern Standard Arabic, a formal language that differs from everyday spoken language. This is a decent debut, and Chreiteh’s future work has potential if given the right attention, direction, and editing. (Dec.)
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