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Always Coca-Cola by Alexandra Chreiteh

Always Coca-Cola

by Alexandra Chreiteh

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191537,190 (3.75)11



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Always Coca-Cola is a deceptively simple tale of three college-age women in contemporary Lebanon. Abeer Ward has been brought up in a traditional Muslim family, she navigates the modern world tentatively, and with much naivete. Her friend Yasmine lives on her own in an apartment, and attends university with Abeer. Because of a German mother, she is light-skinned and is teasingly called "milk" by Yana. She has an unusual penchant for boxing. Yana originally came from Romania with her Lebanese ex-husband. After her divorce she found work as a model and her oversized image, in a bed bikini, hovers over the city on a Coca-Cola billboard. We are introduced to the threesome in the middle of a crisis: Yana thinks she is pregnant.

This engaging story is told from Abeer's viewpoint, which is laced with a interesting mix of edgy humor and naivete. She is trying to navigate the modern world in the space between her conservative family and her street savvy friends - and it's a world of constant discovery and challenges. Just a trip to the drug store with her friends becomes a daring escapade (what if a relative sees her!). I think it's always a good sign when at the end of the book, the reader wishes there were more.

The book apparently caused "a storm" in Lebanon a few years ago. The translator's notes reveal the difficulty of translating the elaborate wordplay and specificity of things that Chreiteh uses in the book. And apparently the author also used formal (literary) Arabic to express things not normally expressed in it. All very interesting.

A tiny excerpt:

Abeer's whole family gathers at her grandmother's house for lunch every Friday after prayers (the population of a small village in a three room apartment). Her description of the whole event is hilarious. Here's a small part of the event:

At that moment, my mother came into the bedroom to tell us that she had seen the men returning from the mosque and that we should prepare some coffee for them. Hala took on this task and so I went to open the door for my father, brothers, Uncle Khalid, Uncle Ahmad, and his son, who had not yet entered the house but were standing outside waiting for the end of the hijab-putting-on-process in the living room. This hijab-putting-on-process at first glance seems simple and easy, but it actually involves a complicated computational process: every woman must calculate her relative relationship with each one of the men, and as quickly as possible, to deduce whether she must put on the hijab to hide her charms from him, even if she has no charms.

The women used their tried and true expertise to finish these calculations with the speed of a new computer. As they covered their hair, they looked to me like women warriors putting on their helmets to prepare for a battle that they might have to rush into at any second. When they were at last ready for this battle, the men came into the living room, greeted the women and then evicted the children from the sofas, occupying them themselves.
(p.59-60) ( )
4 vote avaland | Jan 19, 2013 |
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Book description
The story of three different young women marks the literary debut of an amazing writer from Lebanon

Always Coca-Cola is the story of three very different young women attending university in Beirut: Abeer, Jana, and Yasmine. The narrator, Abeer Ward (fragrant rose, in Arabic), daughter of a conservative family, admits wryly that her name is also the name of her father s flower shop. Abeer s bedroom window is filled by a view of a Coca-Cola sign featuring the image of her sexually adventurous friend, Jana. From the novel s opening paragraph When my mother was pregnant with me, she had only one craving. That craving was for Coca Cola first-time novelist Alexandra Chreiteh asks us to see, with wonder, humor, and dismay, how inextricably confused naming and desire, identity and branding. The names and the novel s edgy, cynical humor might be recognizable across languages, cultures, and geographies. But Chreiteh s novel is first and foremost an exploration of a specific Lebanese milieu. Critics in Lebanon have responded in a storm, calling the novel an electric shock and finding that the problems of its characters reflect grave social anomalies. Read Chreiteh and see what the storm is all about.
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From the novel's opening paragraph-"When my mother was pregnant with me, she had only one craving. That craving was for Coca-Cola"-first-time novelist Alexandra Chreiteh asks us to see, with wonder, humor, and dismay, how inextricably confused are naming and desire, identity and branding. Critics in Lebanon have responded to Chreiteh's frank novel in a storm, calling it "an electric shock" and finding that the problems of its characters reflect grave "social anomalies." Read Chreiteh and see what the storm is all about.… (more)

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