cover image Always Coca-Cola: A Novel

Always Coca-Cola: A Novel

Alexandra Chreiteh, trans. from the Arabic by Michelle Hartman. Interlink, $25 (126p) ISBN 978-1-56656-873-9

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%E2%80%94and Abeer%E2%80%99s Coke-bottle-shaped birthmark%E2%80%94, but in the choices she and her friends make. Na%C3%AFve, demure, and obedient, Abeer blends into the background compared to Yana, and similarly, Abeer%E2%80%99s very real problems tend to be given short shrift in relation to Yana%E2%80%99s unplanned pregnancy. Abeer%E2%80%99s name means %E2%80%9Cfragrant rose,%E2%80%9D 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%E2%80%99s and society%E2%80%99s disapproval, she won%E2%80%99t use a tampon for fear that doing so would sully her virginity. Chreiteh%E2%80%99s character development and figurative language is strong, and there are moments of humor, but this debut%E2%80%94like its narrator%E2%80%94is not quite ready to face the world. Pacing issues persist: four pages are spent on an impending menstrual period, while Abeer%E2%80%99s 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%E2%80%99s future work has potential if given the right attention,%C2%A0direction, and editing. (Dec.)