cover image The Mehlis Report

The Mehlis Report

Rabee Jaber, trans. from the Arabic by Kareem James Abu-Zeid. New Directions, $14.95 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2064-4

Lebanese novelist Jaber receives his first English translation as he follows Beirut architect Saman Yarid from restaurant to restaurant and date to date in the hectic period after Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri's 2005 assassination. As Yarid's unremarkable routine unfolds across tense days, we're privy not only to his architect's-eye view of Beirut's structures and neighborhoods, but to painstaking descriptions of the cosmopolitan city's gastronomy, going some way towards accomplishing for Beirut what Ulysses did for Dublin. Fascinatingly, Jaber treats the violence and tension of a city on edge as a spice that subtly flavors and affects Yarid's days. He is an uncontemplative narrator, living simply and in the moment, and relates to few friends or family members. To that end, Jaber executes a surprising twist at the halfway point by introducing chapters ethereally narrated by Yarid's late sister Josephine, a victim of the Lebanese violence of the 1980's. The shift in tone might be jarring to some, but for others, the details of what that afterlife entails are handled with wit and flair, marking Jaber as an absorbing stylist. With 15 novels under to his name, hopefully we see even more of Jaber's work in translation. (June)