The Bullet Collection

So dominant are Marianna (usually simply Anna) and Alaine, each sister fiercely protective of the other’s secrets of love and war, that The Bullet Collection, despite its gallery of exotic characters, comes alive only as the reclusive younger shares the older’s life—its madness—vicariously. They are doubles in a novel that begins with an epilogue in the place of a prologue, proceeds as Anna’s drama of passage in wartime Beirut, and ends in America as a recapitulation of what Vladimir Nabokov has called the “thematic designs” of a harrowing adolescence.

“Mummy and Daddy did not notice me, and Alaine lived in her own world, headphones clamped to her ears,” Anna thinks. About to enter high school, she is living a fantasy of first love “[which], unlike Alaine’s, would be a success. . . . I became someone else, someone older and quiet and mysterious who had nothing to do with me"; someone, that is, like her big sister who plays soccer with the occupying Palestinians, collects such war mementos as bullets and shrapnel, the belongings of dead soldiers, and even the body of a Syrian invader which she buries. Alaine prowls the danger zone between East and West Beirut, cuts deep into her own flesh, and finally, her madness out of control, is kept under bedlam arrest.

Anna both cherishes and resents her role of keeping watch on Alaine. But she cannot handle the pressure in a time of lunacy of being “the sane one.” By the time the family escapes to the United States, she has in kind if not degree endured her sister’s fearful crucible. She has merged into Alaine’s persona, become the one her parents whisper anxiously about.

In 1990, fifteen years of civil strife came to an end, but in the mind and body of Anna/Alaine the warfare is forever.