29 October 2010 The story of a storyteller

One of the guests of this year’s edition of the Festival will be Rabih Alameddine, the author of the novel The Hakawati, which was received enthusiastically by European and American critics.

The title protagonist hakawati is a wandering storyteller – a raconteur which fulfils a particularly important role in the former community of the Lebanon by focusing it around himself and setting the rhythm of its daily life with his stories. He is also a figure which constantly reappears in various incarnations in Alameddine’s novel; the “contemporary” view of the life of Osama and his grandfather Ismail, an outstanding raconteur, interweaves here with numerous tales and fables, passes smoothly between them and discovers the narrative potential of “today’s” life.

However, The Hakawati is not a simple expression of yearning for the lost figure of the “storyteller”. It is an attempt to overcome the mistrust of narrative and to put trust in the tale and literature in spite of everything. The plot of Alameddine’s novel occurs in the space between the brave (sometimes even reckless) declaration of faith in narrative and the diagnose of fatigue and secondariness, which – in the opinion of the author – prevail in the metaliterary debate of the West.

This motif is of fundamental importance to Alameddine, but, at the same time, the author does not avoid the problem of contemporary social identity (quite the contrary – he constantly reminds us of the community-oriented role of literature). The most interesting parts of The Hakawati seem to be those where the lines of “metanarrative” and social criticism intersect and where the “storyteller” becomes a vigilant observer of transformations in modern culture. In a slightly simplistic approach, The Hakawati is called a „story within a story”, because it skilfully combines a large number of more or less private stories.

Grzegorz Jankowicz, who will host the meeting with Alameddine, was one of the few Polish critics who recognised the importance of the novel by the Lebanese-American writer (its Polish translation was published in 2009). His critical literary sketch about this novel „Wszystko za nic” (All For Nothing) was published in Tygodnik Powszechny.