Always Coca-Cola (Hardcover)
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The narrator of Always Coca-Cola, Abeer Ward (fragrant rose, in Arabic), daughter of a conservative family, admits wryly that her name is also the name of her father’s flower shop. Abeer’s bedroom window is filled by a view of a Coca-Cola sign featuring the image of her sexually adventurous friend, Jana. From the novel’s opening paragraph—“When my mother was pregnant with me, she had only one craving. That craving was for Coca-Cola”—first-time novelist Alexandra Chreiteh asks us to see, with wonder, humor, and dismay, how inextricably confused naming and desire, identity and branding are. The names—and the novel’s edgy, cynical humor—might be recognizable across languages, but Chreiteh’s novel is first and foremost an exploration of a specific Lebanese milieu. Critics in Lebanon have called the novel “an electric shock.”
About the Author
Alexandra Chreiteh is a Lebanese novelist, whose first novel Always Coca-Cola was translated into English and German. She is currently pursuing a PhD in comparative literature at Yale University and also working on her third novel. Michelle Hartman is Associate Professor of Arabic Literature at the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill and a literary translator from Arabic and French into English. She has translated Arabic novels by Muhammad Kamil al-Khatib, Just Like a River, Iman Humaydan, Other Lives and Wild Mulberries, and Alexandra Chreiteh’s first novel, Always Coca-Cola. She has also translated a collection of Arabic and French language short stories by Lebanese authors, Beirut Noir.
"Savage and heady debut...Always Coca-Cola...embeds, in a deceptively simple story, a razor-sharp commentary on how young women in Beirut today are buffeted by the alternately conflicting and conspiring forces of hegemony, capitalism, and patriarchy- without, vitally, ever using such dry terms...we see the serious intention behind the gentle satire...Remarkably, given its short length- a little over a hundred pages- and its uncomplicated, at times even frothy, style, "Always Coca-Cola" comes off as a work of searing intensity that powerfully conjures the atmosphere of contemporary Beirut; it's a testament to translator Michelle Hartman's skill that a novel written mostly, but not entirely, in Modern Standard Arabic, the 'literary language' used in the Arab world, reads so naturally and humorously in English..."
When university student Abeer Ward looks out the window of her Beirut bedroom, she sees a giant Coca-Cola ad across the street featuring her best friend Yana. The influence of the Occident persists not only in the billboard- and Abeer's Coke-bottle-shaped birthmark- but in the choices she and her friends make...Chreiteh's character development and figurative language is strong, and there are moments of humor.
Chreiteh keeps up a lively dialogue (trialogue?) between the main characters, and eventually they all learn what it means to be 20-somethings in modern Beirut...Chreiteh is a fresh voice in the Arab world.
Lebanon is an Arab country that faces west. The Lebanese embrace Western institutions- i.e., European cafe culture, American retail brands- but Lebanon remain within the Arab world...This makes cosmopolitan Beirut a most interesting hybrid: a westernized Arab city. It's against this backdrop that Alexandra Chreiteh and Michelle Hartman write Always Coca-Cola, a lightly sketched novella about young women in contemporary Lebanon... Always Coca-Cola's best moments illustrate the fault-line between tradition and modernity... The author's greatest talent may be her ability to use a little scene to make a powerful point...The femininity vs. feminism tension at the book's core could be examined just as easily in numerous settings, even certain subcultures within the U.S... Always Coca-Cola is about the simmering tension between tradition and modernity as experienced by young middle-class Lebanese women. This is a great premise for a novel... an intelligent little book, and worth the read.
...a wonderful, head-shaking, humorous and sometimes sad journey through and around the forces menacing young women's lives and bodies, in Lebanon and beyond.
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