My Fun Critique of The Book of Khalid by Ameen Rihani, First Novel in English by An Arab-American Author

November 2021

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It is Sunday and I’d received the news yesterday that Britney Spears is free! 🎉🥳🎉from her conservatorship!! I was so happy to see this! and I’ve also been recently doing well myself.

I’d been in recent months following Britney’s story and IG posts as a contemporary one similar to the poet May Ziadeh’s in 1900s Egypt and Lebanon who had lost her own estate by her relatives who threw her in a mental institution in Lebanon and took over her estate and wealth, and that asylum was not a good place.

After nine months, May was eventually free; the author, Ameen Rihani whose novel I’d recently finished was listed as one of few colleagues to make a petition to release her. “Thanks to a campaign spearheaded by the Lebanese-American writer Amin al-Rihani she was released from the psychiatric hospital.” (Inside Arabia)

I finished reading Ameen’s book, The Book of Khalid which features ”The Hermitage” and the situation of reading relates to both authors, as I am in a hospital (#2 in country so not bad) with my medicine being correctly adjusted after a month ago’s professional mishap with the dosage (this was incredibly dangerous, but my outlook was positive.) It’s also nice to think that May doesn’t have to follow the rules here😅with visiting hours.

I set up some red grapes I asked 💗my husband Dan to bring for me (who has been so incredibly supportive and helpful) 💕💗 in a bowl given by staff 🍇 for friends here to share…I was excited to make some of them green tea with me who wanted to try it first time or enjoy it again, which Dan also brought in for me (not the loose leaves though 🙃, teabags only allowed).

I realized, “Hmm… a fairy 🧚‍♀️ setting up some fruits to share and brewing warm cups of green tea for everyone; this is like a Hermitage!” with certain rules even if the places were for different purposes. And so it was a fitting place to fully complete reading the novel, The Book of Khalid, a truly laugh out loud story I was amused by at home too and read enjoyably when I was first without my phone at all for a few days here (standard rule at hospital), saving much of my book review in comments on my Kindle over days in the meantime.

The author even happened to include my very own blog name in that book😯…some pretty fun thoughts to follow! Your very own Sunday news 📰 (to be read any day of course)…

MY BOOK REVIEW

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(Note: Review corrected and revised with 2nd reading of book, Apr. 19, ’22):

The Book of Khalid was the first novel to be published by an Arab American, written in English, and published in the year 1911. I could tell right away by the flow of the sentences and uncommon vocabulary that this poetic prose was not a translation. (I still checked for accuracy to learn that it was not a translation.)

The Book of Khalid stands out as admirable from other fiction of its type and time period with its layers of narration and its spontaneous, stream of consciousness style storytelling. We hear of the story through the narrator who also hints at feelings people may have about “Editors,” as well as including excerpts from the main character, Lebanese born Khalid’s book manuscript or MS, meant to be “true” and referring too to his poetic friend, Shakib’s book, Un Histoire.

Khalid and Shakib, told of as close as two brothers (often in a comical way) are emigrating from Lebanon and arrive in New York City after passing through the busy immigration spot, Ellis Island, and taking the ferry to Manhattan. Shakib was denied entry, and Khalid was placed in a hospital off Ellis Island, but they will both get in (somehow) ;).

The Book of Khalid contains plenty of excitement and confidence in viewpoint, warmer and more teasing in tone than familiar British allegories, yet with a similar blending of spiritualities and beliefs and myth characters, as in the epic poem The Faerie Queen by medieval English author Sir Edmund Spenser.

This novel by Ameen Rihani could have even partly inspired The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings series by author J.R.R. Tolkien, as Tolkien’s books were published only some years after The Book of Khalid ; this earlier novel by Rihani contains similar, very personable, “hermits,” but that comparison is for another time.

As far as what could be better, the effortful emphasis on philosophies being legitimate or credible could start to carry the story & reader away from the exact setting and characters. Some parts of the philosophy felt too systematic to me at times as well as political parts I set aside.

I found the book best when there was less effort on giving a clear, convincing stance on morality, but in the story writing thriving and surprising itself in its prose poetry form author Ameen Rihani was known for in his lifetime, as part of the Romantic Era Arab Renaissance in Literature that made free verse a part of Arabic poetry for the first time. This book was written in English, the author inspired by American poets, like Walt Whitman.

I would’ve liked to have kept some more of the story in the immediate experience as how the book began with the immigrants traveling to NYC and through it, and with illustrations of the Lebanese and Egyptian rural landscape & desert, along with the mysticism and magic realism that can feel wonderfully less place-specific & very universal, an incredible complement to the reality grim immigration history wherein the book begins.

Even with weightier subject matter, the novel never felt heavy. A great thrill was coming upon a quote about temperance, showing that contrast with the eternal…with the mention of the desire of enduring love, unlike flowers springing up and fading off in “the blush of dawn,” the name of my blog! 🙂

I am warmed finishing it, feels like a comfy novel, even if I wanted there to be some moment of more physical touch between characters. My print copy includes Kahlil Gibran’s illustrations, a younger poet / artist who was inspired by this author as a role model, to write his own well-known 1920s poetic book in English, The Prophet , and was asked by Ameen Rihani to illustrate Rihani’s The Book of Khalid .

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It is another 🌓Pisces moon with such unplanned Sagittarian art and entertainment: Sagittarius Britney Spears just free!, Similarly DJ Khaled (“Another one!😅🎶”) had been shared with latest music recommendation followed by Piscean Justin Bieber!, and now this review of author Ameen Rihani, a Sagittarius whose birthday is coming up (again, we share the man mainly in terms of his pages.) ✍️🙂🙏

And it continues…I browsed through many of my latest free book reads that I saved on my uppermost shelf at home and I had packed with me to bring here to read.

I also looked through the small library here too (in which a friend coined me the name ‘Tornado Jade’ as I excitedly searched through them all, and she put them back normally 😅 just a moment after I left.)

So I selected Pride and Prejudice from a free library find some months ago I’d brought with me from home, for current mood and time period preference, and unplanned, written by another Sagittarius, Jane Austen.

This novel is a reread for me after awhile and I am getting much more out of it now. And Jane Austen is the eldest of all in this post now, as she is 101 yrs older than the author of this book I’d reviewed, Ameen Rihani, as she was b. 1775; Jane was writing in England, having lived herself in the countryside. 😊✍️📚🎉

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