Tiller of Waters, The

by Barakat, Hoda

This spellbinding novel narrates the many-layered recollections of a hallucinating protagonist in devastated Beirut. The desolate, almost surreal, urban landscape is enriched by the unfolding of family sagas of Niqula Mitri and of his beloved Shamsa, the Kurdish maid. Mitri reminisces about his Egyptians mother and father who came back to settle in Beirut after a long stay in Egypt. Both Mitri and his father are textile merchants and see the world through the code of cloth, from the intimacy of linen, velvet, and silk to the most impersonal of synthetics. Shamsa in turn relates her family saga, the myriad adventures of her parents and grandparents who moved from Iraq Kurdistan to Beirut. Haunting scenes of pastoral Kurds are juxtaposed against the sedentary decadence of metropolitan residents. Barakat weaves into her sophisticated narrative shreds of scientific discourse about herbal plants and textile crafts, customs and manners of Arabs, Armenians, and Kurds, mythological figures from ancient Greece, Mesopotamia, Phoenicia, and Arabia, the theosophy of the African Dogons and the medieval Byzantines, and the historical accounts of the crusades in the Holy Land and the silk route to China.