The king of India

Malak al hind
DOUAIHY Jabbour
Dar al saqi, Lebanon, Beirut, 2019, 191 pages

DOUAIHY-TheKingOfIndia-AR-Cover copy

Summary

Summary

Zakaria is back to Tall Safra, his mountainous Lebanese hometown, after a decade spent abroad. Quiet and secretive, he keeps an empty wine bottle with a curious label, “Mary”, and a long tube, in his locked room. He says he plans to plant some vines, in their family owned land of Mahmoudiya, an old family dream, rendered impossible by even older gruges with neighboring land owners. A couple of months later, Zakaria is found shot dead, against the trunk of a tree, in that same land.

The investigation into his death begins, while people in the village, including his sister Marta, have already decided that Zakaria’s cousins are responsible. The latter feel they were wrongfully disinherited by their grandfather, and consider themselves rightful co-owners of the land. They therefore have a motive to murder Zakaria. But they are not the only ones: Following a sectarian blood-shed in Mount Lebanon in the 1860s, the Druze family of Al Naked was disowned, and the land given to the family of the victim, their Christian partner, Zakaria’s family. Perhaps Zakaria’s return and his desire to cultivate the land has stirred ancient buried resentment.

As inspector Kamal Abou Khaled investigates, the reader discovers Zakaria’s past, his love of women, the Chaghal painting he stole from one of his lovers and was ment to sell to someone in Lebanon (did he know the painting was a fake?), his passion for Jane Moloy, the daughter they had together and that he raised alone in the USA. The reader also discovers how Mary, Zakaria’s daughter died in a shooting at her school, making the hypothesis of suicide  a plausible one.

Inspector Kamal’s investigation also leads the reader into the meaning of land ownership. A beautiful chapter, at the heart of the novel, explains the laws and circumstances around Mahmoudiya’s sad fate and its dying trees. Sectarianism sometimes runs so deep, that it makes it impossible for anyone to enjoy the land, or even for the land to live.

Though very much about Lebanon, its social and sectarian divides, the inepties of its institutions, and its constant quest for “statut-quo”, the story also unfolds in France where Zakaria spends several years, and the USA, where, already at the turn of the 20th century, Zakaria’s grandmother Filomena had sailed, on her own, to escape a curse she was convinced laid upon the family. She returns several years later, built a house, and, it is believed, buried a treasure in the house’s foundations: “The treasure cannot be retrieved without destroying the house!” Yet another reason (or another strategy?) to deepen the attachement to the land, but unfortunately at the same time, cultivate bitterness.

Douaihy’s novel features many colorful characters, some of them romantic anti-heroes, like Zakaria, some of them true adventurers, like Filomena, others fragile, like Marta, and others still cynical, like the inspector Kamal, whose intelligent eye deciphers the story, and who will ultimately pragmatically prefer social peace to truth.

Translation sample

Translation sample

 

Coming soon.

Rights

Rights

RAYA has world rights to this title.

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