Arabesques (Magill's Literary Annual 1989)
According to common wisdom, most first novels are autobiographies in disguise. Arabesques, however, the first novel of Anton Shammas, a Christian Arab reared in Israeli-occupied Palestine, goes against the grain, for it is clearly a fiction—a patchwork quilt of legend, fact, fantasy, and history—which proclaims its heterogeneous status as both autobiography and novel. As its punning title indicates, Arabesques is a labyrinthine design that weaves together the disparate, somewhat inchoate stories and memories of the inhabitants of Fassuta, a village “built on the ruins of the Crusader castle of Fassove, which was built on the ruins of Mifshata, the Jewish village that had been settled after the destruction of the Second Temple by the Harim, a group of deviant priests.” The mixed origins of Fassuta are reflected in the lives of its people, especially that of the author, who, by recounting his personal past and the more comprehensive legendary past of the village, is attempting to construct an identity in a world where national boundaries and political affiliations constrain selfhood to a singular, geopolitical dimension.
In a form of resistance to that singularity, Shammas constructs Arabesques as a pastiche of stories and styles that defies easy classification, just as the “self” which he discovers through writing defies identification. The novel may be viewed variously as a family romance, an example of magical...
(The entire section is 1820 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 1989)
Kirkus Reviews. LVI, February 15, 1988, p. 239.
The New Republic. CXCVIII, May 2, 1988, p. 28.
The New York Review of Books. XXXV, April 14, 1988, p. 5.
The New York Times Book Review. XCIII, April 17, 1988, p. 1.
Publishers Weekly. CCXXXIII, March 18, 1988, p. 71.
(The entire section is 34 words.)