Fatima Sharafeddine’s YA Novel ‘Cappuccino,’ a Story of Surviving Domestic Violence

Fatima Sharafeddine is a multi-award-winning author and translator of children books for all ages, from babies to teens. Sharafeddine has written and translated more than 120 books for young people, and her work has been translated into Dutch, Danish, Spanish, Catalan, French, German, English, Turkish, Swedish, and Korean.

Sharafeddine’s Faten was translated into English by the author, with some help from her daughter, as The Servant. Hend Saeed reviews Sharafeddine’s latest, Cappuccino, which is not yet available in English:

By Hend Saeed

Fatima Sharafeddine has won a number of awards for her 120+ books for young people, including the Anna Lindh Regional Award (2011); Best Book at the Beirut International Book Fair (2011); two shortlistings for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (2010, 2011) and a spot on the Anna Lindh Foundation Honor List (2009, 2010).

Sharafeddine is one of my favorite authors for children and young adults. Last year, I attended her writing workshop and learned much more about children books and how to create the ‘aha’ moment in stories. In person, Sharafeddine is much like her books: quite, confident, strong, and full of beautiful real-life stories.

Moreover, her stories take us one step further, to discuss some social issues that many of us are too afraid to face!

Her first novel for young adults, Faten, is about the titular village girl, whose father arranges for her to work as a maid for a wealthy Beirut family, and the book explores the lives of servants and migrant workers in Beirut. What Faten’s father doesn’t know is that this ambitious fifteen-year-old decides to pursue her studies in secret.

The powerful Cappuccino (2016, Dar al-Saqi) tells the story of Anas and Lina, a seventeen-year-old boy and girl who meet at a yoga class and develop a close friendship. As the story unfolds, we discover the crises they each face at home. Although family violence is central to the book, there are other issues that arise and start to unfold slowly as their relationship progresses.

The novel is co-narrated by the voices of Anas and Lina, and both their lives unfold, chapter by chapter, in their voices.

Lina’s family moved to Lebanon from Paris following her father’s recent illness. Her father passed away a few months after the family moved to Lebanon, and now Lina lives with her mother and sister. Although Lina finds comfort in her relationship with Anas, she still can’t open up to him about what is happening in her home.

Lina is trying to adapt to her new life, but finds herself struggling. At 17 years old, Lina has limited Arabic and an identity crisis, struggles to make friends in school and to find her way around the much different social life in Lebanon. She tells Anas about how life was different for her and her friends in France: how they are more productive and don’t just go to coffee shops, like her peers in Beirut. She tells him that girls her age didn’t think of plastic surgery, as they do in Lebanon.

After Lina’s dad passed away, her uncle became her guardian, as her father had given his brother authority over his house and land in Lebanon. Lina’s uncle is controlling and takes everything they own, giving them a monthly salary on which to live.

As Lina’s mother thinks about going back to Paris, she starts working as a volunteer with the Tamkeen organization. Meanwhile, Lina’s uncle is trying to force Lina’s sister to marry his son.

Behind Anas’s door

Anas studies in the German school and goes to yoga classes on Fridays. He lives with his father, mother, and sister. Yet he, too, has difficulties at home: He is always cautious before getting into the house, not sure what is happening behind the main door.

From glimpses at his daily journal, we know how Anas feels about his father. He loves his father, who provides for him and buys him gifts. Anas is also trying to be good, so his father won’t get angry. Yet Anas also feels responsible for his mother and wants to protect her from his abusive father.

Anas is always thinking of his mother and what might happening at home, even when he is out with his friends. He often makes up excuses to lave them and go home. However, he is also frustrated with his mother, as she always finds excuses for his father after he beats her up, claiming it was her mistake.

As the abuse grows worse, Anas’ frustration with his father also worsens. His mother leaves the family home and goes to her parents. Yet she is sent back, as her family considers divorce shameful, and Anas’s grandmother says, “a woman leaving her husband’s home brings shame to her family.”

After that, Anas decides to take action to help his mother. He does some research and finds Tamkeen, an organization that helps abused women. When he tells his mother, she refuses to initiate a court case against his father as he might go to prison.

But another violent incident changes their lives. Anas must take his mother to the hospital, and there he compels her to report her broken ribs to the police. After this, she agrees to see a lawyer at Tamkeen, who advises her that, instead of having a court case against him, she could have a restraining order for a month, during which time her husband can work on his anger.

Repressed anger, generation to generation

In his diary, Anas wrote how wanted to kill his father. Yet once he recognized what he’d written, Anas erased the words and changed it to: I will scream in his face and tell him I will hit him if he hits my mother. Indeed, he does hit his father, and then is gripped by fear that he might become him. He also discovers his father was beaten up and abused by his father when he was young.

Lina and her mother help Anas and his mom through their difficulties, although Lina also must tell Anas about her mother’s decision to move back to Paris.

The novel touches on identity, the obsession with appearances, and the importance of friendships, which can shelter us in a crisis.

What I thought needs more information is the ending: We hear that Anas’s father was beaten up by his father when he was young, and that his father also abused his mother. It seems clear he’ll need more than a month to change his behavior and more than a court order to stop his abuse.

Hend Saeed is Arabic Programming Coordinator for the Emirates LitFest.