cover image Yalo


Elias Khoury, , trans. from the Arabic by Peter Theroux. . Archipelago, $25 (317pp) ISBN 978-0-9793330-4-0

After the acclaimed Gate of the Sun , Khoury returns with the spellbinding “confession” of Beirut criminal Daniel Jal'u, aka Yalo, who is picked up by the cops for rape, robbery and suspicion of arms smuggling. Under torture and the threat of more torture, Yalo writes numerous confessions, but seems unable to grasp the whole of his life, producing instead a series of conflicting sequences and inexplicable omissions. Brought up by his grandfather Ephraim, a half-mad Syriac priest, and his mother, Gaby, Yalo joins the army in 1979 and fights in the horrific Lebanese civil wars already under way. Deserting 10 years later, Yalo, after a series of adventures, ends up working as a guard for a rich lawyer whose villa is close to a wooded lovers lane; he progresses from voyeurism to robbing and, in some cases, rape. In so doing he meets Shirin, who will change his life—partially by turning him in. Khoury refuses to give the reader an easy position from which to judge Yalo—either as a poor soul or a serial rapist, criminal or victim of torture—or from which to judge Lebanon's tragic and violent fate. His novel is a dense and stunning work of art. (Feb.)