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Sunday, March 02, 2008

Elias Khoury's YALO reviewed by Adam LeBor

In Lebanon, there is passion and there is blood. Elias Khoury’s new novel, “Yalo,” heavy with both, is a dizzying journey into the extremes of human experience — into intense sensuality and stomach-turning violence. The title character is a child of war, growing up on the back streets of Beirut during the conflict that ripped the country apart from the mid-1970s to the early 1990s. In such dark times, society’s norms evaporate like the morning mist. Yet for some, like Yalo, the chaos also presents opportunities. A talented woodworker and calligrapher, he puts down his pen and his tools and joins one of the militias, where he learns how to kill.


By Elias Khoury.

Translated by Peter Theroux.

317 pp. Archipelago Books. $25. By Adam LeBor

Yalo steals money from the barracks with a friend and the two flee to Paris, where the friend disappears, leaving Yalo penniless. Since he doesn’t understand French, he sits in the Montparnasse Métro station holding a plea for help written in Arabic. He is rescued by an arms dealer, Michel Salloum, who takes him home to Lebanon and gives him a job guarding the Salloum family home. Yalo repays his employer by beginning an affair with Salloum’s wife, the lusty, curvaceous Madame Randa. Yet even the fieriest passion eventually dissipates, leaving Yalo longing for his true love, Shirin. At expensive restaurants, Yalo feeds her wine and arack, cuttlefish and red mullet, but Shirin keeps her distance. Perhaps that’s why he spends his evenings stalking lovers at a rendezvous in the forest, watching them have sex before robbing them and sometimes forcing himself upon the women. [to read the rest click on the heading]


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