Set in Beirut of the year 2010, Napolitana is a modern successful mix of fresh air, smartness and gravity.
“How can a girl with who I was for a long while, leave me, get married and have a child within a year?” Napolitana’s main character asks himself. Haitham is an almost depressed, unhappy, anti-hero in his late twenties, living in the confined space of his room and his computer screen.
Having come across his ex girlfriend at the landmark Napolitana pizza place on Hamra street in Beirut, with her husband and child, he is pushed further away from self confidence. It is in such circumstances, during a party, that Haitham allegedly meets Yumna, a woman in her mid forties with who he will have an affair. This affair remains a very private matter, as none of his two only friends, the couple Hani and Amal, would ever think it possible for him to go on such an adventure, let alone seduce an older and attractive woman. While a friend of Hani’s, a strange bond ties Haitham to Amal. She finds comfort in his unthreatening presence, and he is almost unknowingly attracted to her, obsessed as he is with the beauty spot on her neck. With this constellation of three women, the reality of which sometimes tends to fade away or cristallize in blurred dreams, behind windows, or in snapshots publihsed on facebook, Haitham’s universe is sealed. His life oscillates between the web, where he very attentively follows the blog of unknown young man to which he curiously relates, and these women, who sometimes seem more fantasized than real. Some sense of urgency, perhaps Haitham’s deep dissatisfaction with himself, his chicken legs and sloppy belly, his boyish harmless looks and his being invisible to the outside world, will drive him to shatter this world of his into pieces. A destruction that strangely coincides with the dissapearance of his virtual friend’s blog. In this sense, Napolitana is a novel of initiation revisited, with a bold modern fabric.
Haitham is not a loveable character, but he is extremely real, and the reader relates to him with great ease. Chouman with his exquisite and unique voice, positions himself as well as his work very clearly in post-war Lebanon. The book is an interesting balance between the implicit deep existential anguish of a thirty year old, and the futility of his personal drama. There is no tragedy here, just a subtle hint of gravity that comes with the uneasiness of growing up and will lead to an even lonelier, but perhaps also more confident, main character.
Chouman’s writing is indeed positively modern, using short, straightforward yet surprisingly poetic sentences. Integrating very naturally references to technology and English idioms into a beautifully fluent Arabic, Chouman succeeds in re-creating very accurately the atmosphere of Beirut in the year 2010, at it is lived by its youth.
Sample in Arabic
Dar al-Adab | Beirut, Lebanon | 2010 |
Katia Al Tawil, Dar Al Hayat, April 2011
“Napolitana is more than a modern novel. Revolving around the life of young Haytham Ashrini, the book turns into a perspective on the world of today’s youth, a youth who do not know their place in that world where relationships, classes and ages have been recently mixed up.”
“A novel, the structure of which is a far cry from more traditional narratives”
Chapters of Napolitana were published in leading cultural supplements:
Akhbar al adab, Cairo
Al safir al thaqafi, Beirut
RAYA has world rights to this title, except for the Italian language.
World rights available.