The Penguin's Song

By Hassan Daoud; Marilyn Booth (Translator)
(City Lights Books, Paperback, 9780872866232, 184pp.)

Publication Date: December 2014

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"I loved this book when I read it in Arabic. "The Penguin's Song" is a classic novel of the Lebanese civil war."--Rabih Alameddine, author of "An Unnecessary Woman"
"In "The Penguin's Song," a city falls, a father dies, two women walk the same road over and over, a boy with a broken body dreams of love. Like Agota Kristof's "Notebook Trilogy," this spare yet lyrical parable tells us more about exile, loss and the wearing away of hope than most us want to know. I love this beautiful book."--Rebecca Brown, author of "American Romances" and "The End of Youth"
"Daoud's claustrophobic novel hauntingly conveys one family's isolation after being relocated during the Lebanese civil war. . . . Daoud's evocation of history as it is experienced is excellent. His characters live through momentous events, but their struggles to survive land them in a kind of purgatory. A novel that defies expectations as it summons up the displacement and dehumanization that can come with war."--"Kirkus Reviews"
"Nothing about reading Hassan Daoud's novels is easy, but the effort is always rewarded. The complex but mundane beauty of his prose is skillfully rendered in Marilyn Booth's translation, "The Penguin's Song," a novel as much about the dreary loneliness of daily life as it is about the Lebanese civil war and its aftermath. Slowly paced, heavy with the burden of waiting, Daoud's text unfolds painstakingly, page after page. The horror of war, the pain of isolation, the longing of unfulfilled desire, and the power of the printed word all shine through in this finely-crafted narrative."--Michelle Hartman, Institute of Islamic Studies, McGill University
"Hassan Daoud is one of Lebanon's most important living writers. In "The Penguin's Song," his prose--lyrical, patient and big-hearted--carefully captures the pleasures and pain of a physically deformed young man as he clumsily comes of age in south Lebanon. With her usual empathy and elegance, veteran translator Marilyn Booth brings out the idiosyncrasies and pathetic charm of this unlikely protagonist in his suffocating world. This is a heartbreaking novel that shines a light with empathy onto small lives lived humbly on the margins."--Max Weiss, Professor of History and Near Eastern Studies, Princeton University and author of "In the Shadow of Sectarianism: Law, Shi'ism and the Making of Modern Lebanon"
As war wreaks havoc on the historic heart of Beirut, tenants of the old city are pushed to the margins and obliged to live on the surrounding hillsides, where it seems they will stay forever, waiting. The dream of return becomes a way of life in the unending time of war.
"The Penguin" is a physically deformed young man who lives with his aging mother and father in one of the "temporary" buildings. His father spends his days on the balcony of their apartment, looking at the far-off city and pining for his lost way of life. Mother and father both find their purpose each day in worrying about the future for their son, while he spends his time in an erotic fantasy world, centered on a young woman who lives in the apartment below. Poverty and family crisis go hand in hand as the young man struggles with his isolation and unfulfilled sexual longing.
Voted "The Best Arabic Novel of the Year" when it was first published, "The Penguin's Song" is a finely wrought parable of how one can live out an entire life in the dream of returning to another.

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