Review: In ‘Youssef’s Disappointment,’ Uncovering the Ugliness of Political Slogans

At the end of last year, Fawzi Zabyan’s novel Youssef’s Disappointment (2017) was released by Dar al-Adab:

By Mahmoud Hosny

In his second novel, Youssef’s Disappointment – خيبة يوسف , Fawzi Zabyan uses a story of two friends to shine a spotlight on political parties in Lebanon.

Zabyan maintains the core characteristics of his writing, which also appeared in his first novel, Orwell in the Southern Suburb – أورويل في الضاحية الجنوبية. There’s a cinematic style to the narration, flowing to encapsulate the characters’ multiple small parallel stories, each belonging to a specific place.

The main character is a teenaged Youssef, a friend to the story’s narrator, Fawzi — yet he tells us he isn’t the novel author, and it’s just a coincidence he’s relaying these stories. Through Fawzi’s eyes, we see how Youssef takes a dangerous turn into the world of adults.

Fawzi shows us how he sees the world with clear and conversational language, trending toward colloquial Lebanese with a sarcastic touch. His friendship with Youssef started during primary school, and they continued to be friends until  Youssef was killed, or “martyred,” on Lebanese southern borders while working against Israel.

The details of their friendship show the difference between the two boys’ mentalities and natures. Youssef didn’t pay much attention to the school, didn’t love reading or books, and was fascinated by driving motorcycles and cars, and making some trouble for those who are older than him. Youssef was always ready to do something without thinking about the results. Fawzi was the opposite. He was so obsessed with philosophy and reading that his friends called him Plato. But both of them come from poor families and need to find jobs so they can smoke and drink and do the things that the teenagers in their town do.

Youssef here is an example or pointer toward youth in forgotten places — those who are used to benefit political parties and organizations.

The narrator, Fawzi, hates someone a man belongs to the political party that entered Youssef life, because he was the force that pushed Youssef on the track of organizing and handling weapons while he was still underage, without an ability to differentiate or choose his own path. Fawzi sees this man as the reason for his friend’s death, even before it comes. Indeed, Youssef isn’t the only one — there are other young men were tricked by others who belong to the parties.

Fawzi doesn’t consider his friend a martyr, like the people who came to his funeral. He sees his friend as a victim of deception. This way of seeing explains the narrator’s anger over the celebrations of his friends death by those who believe he died a martyr. There’s also Fawzi’s love for his friend, which strengthens his belief that Youssef didn’t choose to die for Palestine because he was just a teenager.

Sometimes, Zabyan uses a meta-narration to insert himself in the book, and show his perspective on novel-writing, the work of language, and the writers who have influenced him.

Mahmoud Hosny is an Egyptian author and critic. A translated excerpt of his first novel, Maps of Yunus, has appeared on ArabLit.