Rabee Jaber’s Must-read ‘Confessions,’ in Gorgeous English Translation

Below is from my review of Rabee Jaber’s Confessions that ran in the Chicago Tribune. If the world doesn’t tilt completely off its axis, this is a major lit-prize contender for 2016:

confessiosnMy father used to kidnap people and kill them,” opens Rabee Jaber’s “Confessions,” a fictional memoir with echoes of St. Augustine’s 4th-century autobiography. The recollections here don’t bring the narrator any closer to God, but Jaber’s narrator — who’s alternately Maroun and Rabee — does experience a complete, soul-wracking shift.

In the last decade, the 43-year-old Lebanese novelist has developed into a major force in Arabic literature. Jaber has written 18 novels, his three most recent all recognized by the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF).

“Confessions” came out in 2008, a few years before the reclusive Jaber won the IPAF and became known to a much wider audience. While many of Jaber’s works are ambitious historical recreations, “Confessions” is not. This is very much about one character’s identity crisis.

The slim, powerful volume, now in deft translation by Kareem James Abu-Zeid, is like many Lebanese novels written after 1980 in that it grows out of the country’s 15-year civil war (1975-1990). As such, these “confessions” are significantly more serious than St. Augustine’s: The narrator’s father and elder brother are the nightmare figures of Lebanon’s civil conflict. These are men who slaughtered civilians in the Shatila refugee camp and collected their eyeballs, men who would assassinate families without a thought. Rabee/Maroun grows up among these people, thinking he belongs to them. Keep reading at The Chicago Tribune.