cover image Learning English

Learning English

Rachid al-Daif, , trans. from the Arabic by Paula and Adnan Haydar. . Interlink, $12.95 (161pp) ISBN 978-1-56656-674-2

A riveting interior monologue by Lebanese novelist al-Daif (This Side of Innocence) penetrates the deep-seated anxiety of a middle-aged Beirut-based literature professor after he hears about his father’s tribal murder. First-person narrator Rashid prides himself on being “a contemporary person,” educated in French, learning English (it is “the language,” according to Rashid) and happily removed from the primitive customs of his hometown, Zgharta. However, the shocking news he hears secondhand of his father’s murder by “blood revenge” plunges him into his family’s shameful history and draws into question his own paternity. Over the course of a day spent at home awaiting more news from Zgharta, Rashid sifts through his memories of his mother and father’s troubled marriage: his father’s cruelty toward his mother when he discovered she had lost her virginity to his rival, the role of scheming uncles and his mother’s love for and abandoned plans to escape with the other man. Narrator Rashid dredges these conundrums without resolution, while feeling pulled to return home as his father’s son and make order of the chaotic household. The Haydars’ pristine translation captures Rashid’s conflictedness and leaves intact al-Daif’s wordplay, making this a fine introduction to Arabic fiction. (June)