New Belly Dancer of the Universe Contest: A Fiction, The

by Khirallah Noble, Frances

In this deftly turned story, author Frances Khirallah Noble presents a tale that is at once sublimely comic and surprisingly erudite in the subjects it tackles. Its hero, Kahlil Gibran Hourani, is an ordinary, in fact rather bumbling, middle-aged Syrian American optician. On the eve of his fifty-third birthday Kali finds himself confronting seminal questions. “I face the last third of my life,” he reflects, “and I don’t know what to do with myself. Every day I ask how should I be living now? What should I do with the end in sight? Can I come to terms with it?” Enter his dead grandmother, the wisely sardonic Situe. Although she appears in a dream at first and reappears at whim, Situe’s presence will turn Kali’s life upside down. Through a series of misadventures, Kali is abducted and wrongly suspected of being a terrorist by apparent rogue government agents. His darkly absurd experiences force Kali to question his own perceptions, inviting the reader to do the same. Part myth, part magical realism, always knowing, the book offers a biting critique on issues of race, constitutional rights, and the realities of Arab American life in a post – 9/11 world.