Once upon a time, tomorrow

| Kana ghadan
CHOUMAN Hilal
Dar al saqi, Lebanon, Beirut, 2017, 380 pages

Summary

Summary

Once Upon A Time Tomorrow captures the bittersweet reality of post-war Beirut.

It is a fresh, funny and immensely clever take on what life is like for your average millennial in an unstable corrupt country – where anything is possible, and nothing can be relied upon.  

Enter Khaled, a recently divorced journalist who doesn’t know where his life is going.   He throws himself into the task of trying to uncover what happened to his neighbor’s wife who disappeared during the Civil War.  The reader follows Khaled’s investigation as it takes him on a wild goose chase through the city.

Along for the ride is the ever-present media: newspaper, TV and radio features alternate each chapter as they intertwine with the main narrative. News that echoes inside Khaled’s studio from Dargham’s apartment across the street, a radio interview of a pop star that comes on in a taxi, gigantic billboards line the roads promoting a new kind of pest control. 

Of course, what’s bad for living is great for literature!  Drawing from the amusing and tragic absurdities of Beirut life, the novel is criss-crossed with the disappearance of cats, poisoning of water, presence of unknown gunmen on the roofs of the city, masked boys terrorizing their neighborhood, explosions, murder, and a pop star’s promotion campaign. The stories reveal a level of absurdity that ordinary people just trying to get by have to face.

Along the way Khaled falls in love with one of his ex-wife’s friends who joins him in his quest.  And as he closes in on the surprising truth of the disappearance, he gets over his broken marriage and discovers the meaning of life.

In the words of Claire Persian, “Beirut is a city of collisions. Bad drivers, sudden friendships, graffiti in a mess of languages. And yet, when enough chaos collides, it produces its own order.”

[More details available upon request]

Translation sample

Translation sample

Translation by Jonathan Wright.

The Road to Aley

Roger called Khaled and said he would pass by to pick him up and take him to the mountain restaurant they liked in Aley. On the way, Khaled looked at the lights on the electricity poles while listening to the radio. He curled up on the front seat and slipped down. As his body slumped he focused on the street lights on his right. The lights flashed past with a steady rhythm, and then suddenly the rhythm was broken. One lamp was missing from the sequence, either because if was blocked out by an advertising hoarding or because it just wasn’t working.

    Khaled didn’t feel drowsy or nauseous and he didn’t have a headache. In fact he started to remember things more clearly. As usual, from behind the steering wheel, Roger asked him three times if he had fallen asleep. Khaled answered him the first time and the second time, then ignored the question the third time, so Roger inserted a CD and they spent the rest of the journey listening to Abdel Wahhab songs.

    The road to Aley is less busy in winter. The restaurant owners don’t see it as their season but they had come to know the two men and they welcomed them whenever they came. They made space for their car in a covered area behind the restaurant.

    Next to their table the rain was beating against the windows. Roger did most of the talking while Khaled confined his responses to short phrases or nodded his head.

    How many times did Roger ask him about Beirut and his work?

    How many times before he mentioned Suha’s name to him?

The Car Radio: A Rationing Initiative

Several municipalities in Mount Lebanon province had launched an initiative to help the Lebanese Ministry of Energy. At a news conference in Baabda town hall, the chairmen of the the municipalities announced that they were planning to ration the street lighting. Instead of having all the street lights on, they would start turning only half of them on.

    In response to questions from journalists on how dangerous this step would be, and whether it would endanger Lebanese drivers, a member of the Sofar municipal council stepped in, introducing himself as an electrical engineer. He explained that the number of street lights that were usually on was more than necessary and that the lamp posts along the roads were very close together. Engineer “One Lamp On, One Lamp Off” added that the measure would have absolutely no negative effect on visibility on the roads at night, citing an experiment the municipality had conducted in a side street in Sofar.

    The engineer went  on to say that the measure would reduce the load on the power stations and divert the power to where it should be, i.e. in homes, especially as people needed heating in the current winter season, which was turning out harsh compared with previous years and was expected to get harsher, with expectations of another snow storm in the coming week

[Full translation available upon request]

Rights

Rights

Dar al saqi has world rights to this title. RAYA represents Dar al saqi for world rights.

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