Sunday, August 29, 2010

Yalo - Elias Khoury

"Yalo did not understand what was happening. The young man stood in front of the interrogator and closed his eyes, as he always did."

Yalo( Daniel Jalu'u) being interrogated for multiple crimes, including robbery, rape and storing arms and explosives. Under trial he was forced to make confessions by the interrogator. Each time he makes his speech, he was interrupted by the interrogator, asking him to fill the gaps of his narrative as it is incomplete. Thus Daniel alias Yalo goes over his confession over and over again, giving us further insights into the character and his life. Repeating the often told story, Yalo under torture and interruption by the authorities, goes through the same story with its subtle variations and view points again and again.

Interrogation is not new for him. In his childhood, he remember his grandfather, a priest, forces young Daniel to confess of crime he did not commit. After his confession, the priest changes back into grandfather and beat up the child. The history is repeating now in the form of interrogator.

Yalos life is complicated. His father has left his mother after the insistence of his grand father that the newly wed should stay with him. His grand father takes control of their life, stopping the new found love of his mother. His grandfather, enrolls him in school as his own son and surname, mentions his mother as his sister. But Yalo insists that " His grandfather is not his father and his mother is not his sister."

Yalos spends long time in the Lebanon's sectarian civil war ( not a good soldier though), escaping to Paris towards the end living a refugee life. He was found and rescued from the basement by a rich Lebanese business man, who bring him back to be the bodu guard of his wife. Yalo, paid back to his rescuer by seducing his wife, and later using loop holes the Lebanese law, looted and raped innocent victims. The victims have turned up against him in the court of law, including Shireen, whom he loved and spent a lot of time together.

Yalo is a complicated character. Hence his narrative is also contrived and often contradicting. He does not give out the details in one instance. It becomes clearer and missing links were added of every repetition of the confession. Using Daniel (the alter ego) and Yalo ( the prime accused) Khoury presents the story of a city in real life.

The history of Beirut is riddled with war. The Syrians, the Kurds, the Turkish and the Arabs were all part of the people who invaded. People trying to hide their origins ( like his grand father who does not acknowledge his Kurdish ancestry), people trying to find their own identity. Story of Yalo is not an isolated story. Its the religious , political and historical back ground of the current day Beirut.

Elias Khoury's name has appeared in the Nobel speculation for this year. The book happened to attract my attention while waiting for the connecting flight. A brilliantly constructed novel, with some fantastic writing. Depicting the current life of Beirut. Though the story per se is very complicated and not detailed for a narration, the intricacies related the to the duality, and the unreliability of the person telling the story makes the reading very interesting.


Yalo ( 2002)

Elias Khoury ( translated from Arabic by Humphrey Davis in 2009)

Maclehose Press

344 Pages

More read : Quarterly Conversation, L A Times, Archipelago Books Review , Interview with Khoury

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