Arabesques Characters

The main characters in Arabesques are Anton Shammas, Laylah Khoury, and Michael Abyad.

  • Anton Shammas is the protagonist, narrator, and author of the text. He is deeply curious about his ancestral past and has a writer’s penchant for detail and anecdote.
  • Laylah Khoury was, as an orphaned girl, escorted to her new family by Anton’s father. Anton now believes she holds the secret of his namesake.
  • Michael Abyad is an American writer and researcher of Palestinian origin. As an adult, Anton meets Michael, whom he suspects may be his lost cousin and namesake.


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Last Updated on March 20, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 806

Anton Shammas

Anton is the protagonist and the central narrative voice of Arabesques. He is from a Maronite (Roman Catholic) Arab family and was born in the village of Fassuta in Galilee around the year 1950. He is a writer, though little of the novel deals specifically with his working life. At the age of twelve, he and his family move to the city of Haifa, in Israel. Anton clearly is a dreamer. As a boy and as a young man his thoughts revolve around family history, secrets, and the effects of history on the land and its people. He is a Christian Arab but also an Israeli citizen and identifies with the Israeli culture.

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Laylah Khoury

Laylah Khoury is the orphan girl adopted by the Bitars. (Laylah is Arabic for “night.”) Her history fascinates Anton, because he senses that she is the key to a secret within the Shammas family regarding the “first Anton,” the son of Anton’s uncle Jiryes and aunt Almaza. This Anton reputedly died as an infant. Hanna, Anton’s father, escorts the ten-year-old Laylah north to Lebanon to the Bitar family. In 1948 Laylah, now a young woman, returns to Galilee during the Arab-Israeli War. She is deported to Jordan, where she then marries a Muslim man named Sa’id and converts to Islam, taking the first name Surayyah. She is the mother of deaf-mute twin boys, whom she cares for into adulthood. 

Michael (or Michel) Abyad

Michael Abyad is a Palestinian-American writer/researcher. Anton sees a photograph in Time Magazine of Michael at the site of the massacre in the Sabra refugee camp outside Beirut. Even before a definitive answer is given, Anton senses that Michael is the “first Anton,” his cousin who supposedly died as a baby but was actually adopted by the Abyad family and sent to America in 1948. When Anton finally meets him face to face, Michael tells Anton that he has himself written a manuscript about their story. Michael is a Doppelgänger presence, an alter-ego of Anton. In a metafictional sense, the question arises as to who the author of the Arabesques narrative really is: Anton or Michael. 

Hanna Shammas

Hanna Shammas is Anton’s father. By trade he is first a barber and later a cobbler. The text suggests he is a good man—responsible and devoted to his family. 

Elaine Bitar Shammas

Elaine Shammas is Anton’s mother. Unlike the Galilean Shammas family, the Bitars are Lebanese, living first in the city of Tyre and then in Beirut. In the mid 1930s as a young woman Elaine is sent south to Fassuta in order to teach French in a girls’ school. By this time, however, she has already met Hanna, who had gone to Lebanon to escort a young orphan girl who is to be adopted by the Bitar family.

Grandmother Alia

Alia is Anton’s paternal grandmother. The story opens at the time of her death in 1954. 

(The entire section contains 806 words.)

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