More than three quarters of the way into the novel, Alameddine writes, “The best stories always begin with the appearance of a woman.” He follows his own advice, opening his novel centuries in the past with Fatima, the Alexandrian. In order to help her emir produce a son, Fatima offers to travel back to Egypt to visit a healer. When the emir asks why the healer can’t come to him, Fatima says healers never leave home, because home is the source of their magic. And thus the novel launches its first character on an intricate, sometimes deadly, and always absorbing adventure, and the rest of the cast follows Fatima’s example. First to follow is Osama al-Kharrat, the narrator of the book, who has come back to Lebanon after a long self-imposed exile in L.A. to stand vigil at his father’s hospital bedside. Osama feels foreign to himself in Lebanon. “I was a tourist in a bizarre land,” he says, “I was home.” In the first three pages of his novel, Alameddine mentions the magic, foreignness, and pull of home—and the idea of belonging. Exile becomes a central theme for the rest of the book.
Also in the issue, “international writers contemplate the reversals of various fortunes,” with stories from Sarajevo, Sao Paulo, and more.