7/52: The Tiller of Waters - Hoda Barakat

The Tiller of Waters is a novel written by the Lebanese author, Hoda Barakat. This was chosen for my book group for the month of February. Can I pause and say how much I love book groups? If you aren't in one, join one! A lot of local bookstores and public libraries offer them for free. Mine is currently made up of mutual friends who nerd out about books and love wine; the perfect combination in my opinion. 

Now back to the book! The novel follows the memories of a hallucinating man who is currently residing in war-ridden Beirut in the late 1980s. The main character's recollections include stories about his father who was a textile maker, his mother who was an over dramatic, aspiring opera singer, and his house maid Shamsa who was a Kurdish refugee.  The writing is lush, descriptive, and full of vibrant imagery. I really enjoyed learning more about Lebanese culture, which I previously did not know much about. 

As beautiful as the writing was, the story was confusing and hard to follow. In my book group we discussed that the confusion may have come from the translation of the book from Arabic to English and from various cultural misunderstandings. For example, I had a hard time telling what was based in reality or what was a metaphor. I also could not figure out when in history this book was set, which we then figured out at book group by doing some research. In the end, I didn't finish this book due to the confounding nature of the story.  I have about 50 pages left, but I'm counting it read anyway. 


Quotables: 

A very interesting take on the mass production of textiles and the future of the garment industry:

"Do you know that to put certain things together was, and still is, forbidden in the holy book of the Jews... that it is forbidden to wear cloth woven from fibers of different origin? This is not only to avoid bringing together what God has kept apart. More important, it is because to combine, in itself, is a venture of uncertain outcome. The experiment might fail... or it might succeed and yield a harmonious result that is positive, but its very success might produce danger as well, for it might make people arrogant. It might give them notions of being more powerful than they really are, leading them to corrupt the essence of things, of whatever their hands touch." 

A beautiful quote from the character Shamsa, who is a Kurdish refugee. 

"I am fat, says Shamsa, because I have no country. I eat so that my body will grow, so that I can plant its weight firmly on the ground; so that my body will sense the earth there. We walked so much when we left our land that I was almost one with the air. Now I gain weight so that I may settle, so that I can feel the presence of a homeland. So that my dimensions will expand to occupy space. So that I can have some sort of solidity, whatever it may be, and alight in a home of my own."

An insightful quote on the connectivity of all things, which I am all about.

"Know that for me the entire world is nothing but a mirror. And know that in every speck blaze thousands of suns. If you were to pierce the heart of a single drop of water, from it would fall water enough to fill an ocean. Examine every grain of sand and you will find hundreds of human beings within... And a drop of rain has all of the attributes of the torrential Nile River. The core of a grain of wheat is akin to the yield of a hundred harvests, and in a kernel of maize is concealed a world, entire and complete. Every thing, and every question, is a point on the circle of the present. From every point in this ring emerge thousands of forms. Every point in its own orbit is at once a circle and a sphere that rotates... and the world is a mirror to the world." 


All in all, the writing was beautiful but the story was confusing.

Buy it here (Amazon because it is not widely held in local bookstores)

Borrow it here