Review of ‘The Storyteller’ by Pierre Jarawan

Review of ‘The Storyteller’ by Pierre Jarawan

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The Storyteller by Pierre Jarawan (@pierre_jarawan) was translated from German into English by Sinéad Crowe and Rachel McNicholl and published by World Editions on 4 April 2019. It is available as a paperback, priced at £11.99. Find out more on the World Editions website.


ABOUT THE BOOK

Samir leaves the safety and comfort of his family’s adopted home in Germany for volatile Beirut in an attempt to find his missing father. His only clues are an old photo and the bedtime stories his father used to tell him. The Storyteller follows Samir’s search for Brahim, the father whose heart was always yearning for his homeland, Lebanon. In this moving and gripping novel about family secrets, love, and friendship, Pierre Jarawan does for Lebanon what Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner did for Afghanistan. He pulls away the curtain of grim facts and figures to reveal the intimate story of an exiled family torn apart by civil war and guilt. In this rich and skillful account, Jarawan proves that he too is a masterful storyteller.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Pierre Jarawan was born in 1985 to a Lebanese father and a German mother and moved to Germany with his family at the age of three. Inspired by his father’s imaginative bedtime stories, he started writing at the age of thirteen. He has won international prizes as a slam poet, and in 2016 was named Literature Star of the Year by the daily newspaper Abendzeitung. Jarawan received a literary scholarship from the City of Munich (the Bayerischer Kunstförderpreis) for The Storyteller, which went on to become a bestseller and booksellers’ favourite in Germany and the Netherlands.


MY REVIEW

It’s difficult to believe that Pierre Jarawan’s The Storyteller is a debut novel. This is hands-down one of the best books I’ve read so far this year, and it’s really going to take some beating!

The story focuses on the young Samir, born in Germany to Lebanese parents. Samir’s early childhood memories are infused with his father’s longing for his beloved home country. The family lives in a Lebanese neighbourhood where the people come together for celebrations, share good news and bad alike and help newcomers adjust their satellite dishes to twenty-six degrees east to get access to Lebanese TV. Samir himself has never been to Lebanon, but he feels very close to the culture and loves hearing his father’s stories of the good old days before the war, dreaming of the day when he will see it all for himself. But when Samir’s father suddenly disappears without a trace he struggles to adapt to his new reality, eventually setting off for Lebanon himself to find out what really happened to his father.

“Twenty-six degrees east,” called up one of the men.

“Too far to the left and you’ll get Italian TV,” said another.

“Yeah, and the Russians are just a bit to the right of it, so you need to watch out.”

The loss of his father causes Samir’s world to collapse before his eyes. His mother is barely able to cope, leaving Samir to look after his little sister, who is too young to even remember the man Samir continues to worship. And although Samir’s best friend Yasmin is always there for him, he is so frightened of losing her too that he pushes her away. As time passes, Samir’s perspective begins to shift slightly, but he knows that he cannot rest until he finds out what really happened to his father. The way Samir’s character develops throughout the story is extremely convincing, and the narrative threads are woven expertly together to create an utterly absorbing and heart-rending novel that made me lose all track of time.

Jarawan has done an outstanding job of bringing to life the rich details of life in a Lebanese community in Germany as well as Lebanon itself too, transporting readers to completely new worlds. Just like Samir, the reader learns about Lebanon – which has seen such terrible and prolonged violence, and yet still so has so much to offer – from the Lebanese community around him. Samir is captivated by everything he hears and finds it increasingly difficult to fit in with his German classmates, to whom he will only ever be an outsider. Samir’s struggle to balance his Lebanese and German identities are wonderfully evoked, really giving readers a sense of his unease. With so many refugees and immigrants desperately trying to build new lives today, these themes of identity, displacement, loss and longing are highly topical, and this story will resonate with readers the world over.

The translators, Sinéad Crowe and Rachel McNicholl, have done a fantastic job rendering this story in English. The fact that it is a co-translation makes it even more impressive, as it is absolutely seamless. They obviously worked very well together, and have spent a great deal of time editing the novel to ensure the narrative voice is consistent throughout. And it is not just what is beneath the cover that makes Jarawan’s debut so special. As a whole package, The Storyteller really stands out for me. The yellow and orange cover is striking, and inside there are testimonials about the book from the author, translators and publisher, which enhance the reading experience. At the end of the book readers will find the story behind the cover design. I’m not always a fan of large paperbacks, but I have to say (publishing nerd alert!) the font is really pleasant to read and the paper quality is great. Being honest, as well as being completely taken in by the plot and characters, I was quite overwhelmed when reading by just how much I enjoyed holding this book!

All in all, The Storyteller is a stunning novel and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Thanks very much to Ruth Killick Publicity and World Editions for including me in this blog tour!

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