A House at the Edge of Tears

Venus Khoury-Ghata, Author, Marilyn Hacker, Translator , trans. from the French by Marilyn Hacker. Graywolf $12 (111p) ISBN 978-1-55597-434-3

Khoury-Ghata, a longtime Lebanese exile living in Paris, is the author of 16 novels and 13 collections of poems in French (including the NBCC finalist for poetry She Says , also translated by Hacker). This self-avowedly autobiographical first-person novel is set in a mostly Christian village outside civil war–era Beirut. It centers on the travails of the narrator's brother, whose masturbation, once discovered, drives the father, a former monk, into rages. (The entire family goes unnamed.) Beating and terrorizing his son viciously, the father ultimately has the boy committed to an insane asylum. To cover up, the father does not quell the rumor that the boy tried to rape one of his sisters. The narrator and her sisters are then sent to a small, devout village in northern Lebanon to live with their aunt and uncle, a coffin maker, and the contact with their parents and brother from then on is intermittent and difficult. The book unfolds in clotted, repetitive lyric bursts, but Khoury-Ghata paints an effectively stylized picture of tyrannical psychosis as it destroys a family, informed by the larger destruction of Lebanese society during the protracted civil war. (Nov.)

Reviewed on: 08/29/2005
Release date: 11/01/2005
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