Beautiful heartfelt German review (in English) of Douaihy’s “June rain”

20 December 2012 64 views No Comment Email This Post Email This Post Print This Post Print This Post

Published in German by, Andere Literatur (2)
On December 14th 2012

This is an excerpt (approximately) translated using Google translate.

The association is not obvious, but from a distance this book reminds me of the structure of Sherwood Anderson’s “Winesburg, Ohio”, arguably one of the most powerful (and yet unknown from the general public) books of the West’s so-called classical modern time of 1919. In both books, the life in a small town is carefully circled in episodic chapters. The story of the protagonist is only one among many… A little like a cubist painting peels off gradually from different perspectives, offering a complex picture, which goes far in its multidimensionality, beyond the horizon of individual actors.

With “June rain”, you can undoubtedly speak of a challenging read. The picture eventually assembles only in the reader’s mind. We dive into the barren mountains of the north Lebanon, where nameless voices tell their life stories. Some appear in later chapters again, one and the same story is told from completely different points of view and perspectives, we read reports from a first person perspective, then in the third person, and decades separate chapters that jump back and forth. A totally unpretentious way for Douaihy, who uses these tricks of the art of storytelling, to serve the complete portrait of the large village’s society; it is not some postmodern boring exercise.

However, “June rain” bears comparison with Anderson’s text only up to a certain point. Gradually Douaihy gives the reader a common thread, which runs clearly through the various chapters. An individual voice returns again and again, a very specific event is circled, ultimately taken as a reference by all narrators, and therefore representing the vanishing point of the episodic round dances. It is this event, in the small town of the mountains of northern Lebanon that separates people’s lives into a before and after: At a memorial service in the village church in the late 1950s, a gunfight errerupts between the members of several warring Christian extended families, which ends in nothing less than a massacre.

Many die that day, and this event overwhelming sets the ensuing feud over the place. For years, this gunfight determined the life in the mountains and forces the villagers in a fatal friend-foe scheme. No one can escape the logic of revenge, nor Elijah, who, as a boy, is sent by his mother into exile in America to escape the violence. Today, decades later, he returns, an estranged visitor who tries to get to the bottom of the reasons behind the firegith. Elijah’s search is doubly motivated, because his own father, whom he never got to know died on that ill-fated morning. Elijah’s own conception coincides with the genesis of the village’s tragedy. The novel can be read as one long and bumpy history.

It is therefore a coherent story that can be told from at least three perspectives. Elijah embarks on a quest that will lead him to his own roots, the reader follows him, but not slavishly attached to his coat-tails. Rather we approach the character in a kind of midlife crisis in a roundabout way, through stories that others tell about him. The reader loses sight of him again, for whole chapters long, following other tracks, learning details about the shooting and the oppressive subsequent years. Eventually with this new knowledge in his luggage, the reader returns to Elijah.

Who expects a straightforward resolution of the story will disappointingly put the book aside. This seems to have happened to the few German reviewers who unanimously spoke about the story’s lack of structure and came to the conclusion that a great opportunity had been missed, because of the fascinating nature of the subject, and the Middle East being an interesting terrain for the big Cabal. A laudable exception was at this point the positive review in Freitag.

Rub your eyes from these allegations. As if this country, for some years now became the standard of literary creation of (neo-) realism, and the generation-spanning family histories should absolutely and always be the measure of all things!…

The absence of linear narrative does not in any way deny this books its value, and one may read such criticism at least with some skepticism. Remember a passage in another great novel of modernity, John Steinbeck’s “Tortilla Flat,” where one of the protagonists, Pilon, argues the merits of intricate storytelling: “The story which gradually takes shape”. Pilon liked it this way. It ruins a story to have it all come out quickly. The good story lay in half-told things Which must be filled in out of the hearer’s own experience. In June rain, the individual fragments form together a mosaic of great vividness…

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