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KOOLAIDS is a wildly imaginative tour de force -- impressive, stunning. Alameddine's is the authentic voice of the prophet, speaking from the man-made wilderness of the late 20th century. Like all great prophets he speaks with equal parts of anger and love, in a crazy-quilt, Kundera-meets-Kushner narrative juxtaposing America’s AIDS wards and the terrorist battlegrounds of Lebanon. Dark and funny and despairing and literate and finally, in its unvarnished truth, affirming: Amid all the craziness, I am here. We are here.
An extraordinary literary debut, this book is about the AIDS epidemic, the civil war in Beirut, death, sex, and the meaning of life. Daring in form as well as content, KOOLAIDS turns the traditional novel inside out and hangs it on the clothesline to air.
The arresting title of this first collection from the author of the well-received novel Koolaids should not turn away readers who might discover Alameddine's considerable talents. Indeed, the eponymous novella seems purposely confrontational. The unnamed narrator, a gay man obviously dying of AIDS, corresponds with a pedophile named Bill. The dying man pretends to be a 13-year-old boy who has moved to San Francisco from Lebanon, and his letters are deliberately framed to encourage Bill's sexual cravings. The question that the story explicitly raises is the true nature of perversion: the narrator maintains that society at large is more perverted than the people it accuses of sexual transgression. He addresses the reader directly: "Do you ever think about what made me the way I am? You did." The remaining seven stories are equally edgy, acerbic and unsparing. Lebanon's proverbial breakdown is the black margin around everyone, whether the characters live in that country or have emigrated elsewhere. "The Changing Room" is an elegant, scathing memoir of an upper-class Lebanese boy sent off to an English boarding school in the '70s. While his country is falling into ruin, the boy moves from a war zone "directly into hell. Nothing prepared me for the cruelty of the English." The memoirist's vein is further pursued in "My Grandmother, the Grandmaster," in which an expatriated Lebanese writer recalls the role his mother's mother has played in his life, encouraging his intellectual talents that are derided by his rich but boorish father. She is a grande dame from an impeccable family line, but her genius in chess symbolizes the paradox of sexist Lebanon, where the chess association will not grant her recognition. The story displays the manners and mores of a ruling class on the brink of the abyss. These stinging narratives vibrate with an electrical tension that comes partly from Alameddine's penchant for the outrageous, partly from his unflinching view of a society in chaos.
Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
The Library Journal
The Lebanese-born author of Koolaids presents a thematically related collection of blunt, discomforting stories set largely in a Lebanese diaspora whose people reel from civil war and their own inability to find connection and peace. Several of the stories scrutinize the loneliness and anxiety of being gay in a disapproving community and in the continuing era of AIDS; "Duck" is an imaginative, nearly poetic series of fragments connecting a lover's slow death, a childhood duck hunt, a musing on suicide, and a Daffy Duck cartoon, while "The Changing Room" recounts life among outcasts in an English boarding school at a time of tragedy. The most spirited, triumphant story, "My Grandmother, the Grandmaster," recalls a chess match attended by the young narrator and his wily grandmother, who would become the only family member not to shun the narrator later in life. The long title story tells of a desperate sexual correspondence between a middle-aged man and a pubescent boy, at least one of whom is not as he seems. It is a confrontational introduction to a demanding but impressive book. For larger and specialized collections.--Janet Ingraham Dwyer, Columbus, OH Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
A first collection of loosely related stories and a title novella, from the Lebanese-born author of Koolaids (1998). The seven briefer stories, which seem to be partially autobiographical, depict—usually in discrete fragments arranged in nonsequential paragraphs—the experience of growing up in a volatile country with extreme social and ethnic contrasts and riven by civil war; and the experience of various "escapes" from parental expectations as well as more immediate dangers. The typical protagonist here is a sensitive outsider lost in the world of books and enduring complex relationships with such imposing loved ones as "My Grandmother, the Grandmaster" (a story where a chess match assumes clever symbolic importance) or with a once-beloved cousin ("Remembering Nasser") who disapproved of his homosexuality. Sexual confusion and guilt are paramount in several pieces ("Duck" and "A Flight to Paris") that mourn the loss of a lover to AIDS, and especially in "The Changing Room," a tense account of a wary Lebanese boy's experiences in an English boarding school. The centerpiece—and most troubling story here—is The Perv, a self-justifying pedophile's nauseatingly explicit account of his correspondence with a nubile (Lebanese-American) boy enjoyably exploring his own gayness. Or is this only the fantasy of an aging recluse (who may be a patient in a hospital or sanatorium), comforting and exciting himself with the particulars of imaginary passions ("I have always been someone else, always")? Alameddine skillfully juggles several possibilities in a deeply confrontational fiction that hauls the reader headlong into intimate contact with a defiantly unconventional sensibility. Despite some monotony, this is a vivid and interesting further exploration of Alameddine's uniquely multinational, multisexual fiction. It's not a likable book, but it's one that the reader does come to respect.