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There are colors all through this book, starting perhaps with the red of the protagonist’s hair, a red she inherited from her American mother. Sometimes, in writing, color is just a prop, like cigarette smoke or a sunset; but sometimes it can be definitional, like this:I was in New York last week and saw two retrospectives, Pierre Bonnar’s and Rothko’s. Besides noting that Bonnard could not draw if his life depended on it and that Rothko did not even try, I was stunned by a major realization. When it came to a choice between a beautiful color and the correct color, Bonnard always picked the beautiful one, while Rothko, in his great paintings, picked the correct one. I realized when it came to men, I did not pick the beautiful or the correct. I picked the wrong one. I picked David._____ _____ _____ _____First….This was actually the second book by Alameddine that I’ve read, after his latest, An Unnecessary Woman. He writes exceptionally well in a female voice. I read in an interview he gave that it annoys him when someone brings this up, that it’s not really unusual. But it is. In any event, on the basis of just two books, it’s clear to me that Alameddine will never write the same story twice, nor will he use the same structure. But there’s more than standard tuning and missionary sex, one just needs the confidence to go with change. Alameddine is a very confident writer.A completest, I will read everything Alameddine writes._____ _____ _____ _____1. The format, apparent from the subtitle, appealed to me, and should appeal to you too if you like different structure as well as different plot. Once again, think Drop D or Open G tunings. In less able hands, of course, this would have been childish, but Alameddine made it refreshing. Imagine writing every chapter as if it was the start of the book. This changed the look, by font and by title: 1., Chapter One, One, Chapter 1, 1-----, and ending with an Introduction. It allowed for different POVs, shifting times and places. It also allowed the book to be part Memoir, part novel, part introspection. And it really worked. Of course, the reader is always alert to each new start: is this really how a book would begin? I’d say, for the most part, yes._____ _____ _____ _____Alameddine begins, as shall I, with Sarah Bernhardt. The protagonist is named for her, named by her grandfather who was, uh, obsessed. But so was Mark Twain, we are told, who said there are five kinds of actresses: bad actresses, fair actresses, good actresses, great actresses – and then there was Sarah Bernhardt. It was a long line of obsession. After Twain was D.H. Lawrence, Marcel Proust, Henry James, Victor Hugo and Sigmund Freud. Thus, Sarah Nour El-Din’s destiny was already written. She was indeed, as the title suggests, divine._____ _____ _____ _____What I want to start with is a story that our protagonist’s grandfather tells her. I want to start there because this book is full of stories; and family, and religion, and country. The grandfather is Lebanese; our protagonist is half-Lebanese and half-American. So she is wide-eyed when her grandfather tells her about the Crusades. All the Christians, he told her, got together and decided to invade Lebanon because they could not stand that fact that not everyone was a Christian. They kept coming like ants but kept being beaten back. One crusader was especially smart and evil. His name was Richard Nixon. It was a long story that the grandfather told, both fable and fabulous. I won’t tell it here. But when he’s done, he is confronted by his granddaughter:”Grandfather,” I said, “Richard Nixon is the president of the United States.”“That was a different Nixon.”“I’m ten years old now, Grandfather,” I said. “Don’t you think I would know the difference between the Crusaders and the president of the United States?”Don’t you love it when they’re both right?_____ _____ _____ _____This is a book about art, and marriage; about Beirut. It is about the Lebanese Civil War, seen from inside and outside. There is an obligatory rape and an obligatory suicide, which really were unnecessary plot standards given the wonderful writing. I read this on vacation and gulped it down. So when the woman a few beach chairs away from me walked over and said, “It’s so fucking hot. Would you mind holding my bikini top and copy of The Magic Mountain - you know, the John Woods translation – while I take a quick dip in the ocean?”, I distractedly said, “Yea, sure, sure.”Maybe that’s true and maybe that isn’t. Anyhow, I thought that would be a good starting point for my review.

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