The Sacremento Book Review & The Night Counter

http://sacramentobookreview.com/modern_literature/the-night-counter/

The Night Counter

Posted by Editor at 8 September, 2009, 9:25 am

night-counterBy Alia Yunis
Shaye Areheart Books, $23.00, 365 pages

When the immortal storyteller Scheherazade gives Fatima Abdullah 1,001 nights to tell the great stories of her life, Fatima begins to prepare for her death. Between getting her affairs in order, Fatima spends most of her 1,001 nights reminiscing about Deir Zeitoon, the home in Lebanon she left for America, and the home she longs to return to. She only spends her last eight nights reliving her life in America and her many disappointments.

The Night Counter is a multi-generational tale of an Arabic family adjusting into the American culture and the disappointment Fatima experiences when she realizes her children have assimilated and all but forgotten their Arabic heritage.

Alia Yunis’ debut novel is wonderfully imaginative and perfectly crafted. She provides not only Fatima’s perspective, but also the perspectives of Fatima’s children and grandchildren, and the individual struggles they each face as an Arab in a post 9/11 world. Familial relationships are perfectly captured and each character is real and relatable, making The Night Counter an engrossing read.

Reviewed by Jenifer Carter

The Boston Globe Review

http://www.boston.com/ae/books/articles/2009/08/09/in_dunants_sacred_hearts_a_story_of_thwarted_love_and_church_intrigue/

“In Alia Yunis’s poignant, hilarious first novel, “The Night Counter,’’ purple-haired, 85-year-old Fatimah Abdulla tells her life story to Scheherazade, the legendary storyteller from “The Arabian Nights,’’ who appears every night in the elderly woman’s Los Angeles bedroom. Fatimah has plenty of stories. She came to Detroit from Lebanon as a teenage bride, had two husbands and 10 children. She is preparing to die, but not before tying up a few loose ends, chief among them finding a wife for grandson Amir, an actor who insists he’s gay.

Fatimah has been telling her story for 992 nights, so she has only a few nights left to wrap things up. Three years ago she divorced Ibraham, her devoted second husband of 65 years, left him in Detroit, and flew to L.A. to move in with Amir. She passes her time fruitlessly matchmaking, following the Detroit Tigers on ESPN, and keeping up with “the Arab funeral circuit in L.A.’’ And she talks to Scheherazade about her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The branches of this family tree support four generations of achievement, assimilation, disappointment, and dysfunction. There’s Randa, who calls herself Randy and is married to Bud (formerly Bashir), a Houston attorney, and is the mother of three daughters, all cheerleaders. Daughter Hala, a Minneapolis gynecologist, was married and is now divorced. Fatima’s only surviving son, Harvard-educated Bassam, is a recovering alcoholic who calls himself Sam, works as a limousine driver in Las Vegas and is contemplating a fifth marriage, to a blonde bartender named Candy. Their stories form an affectionate, amusing, intensely human portrait of one family.”

The Washington Post Review

It’s pretty cool to get reviewed by one of the book critics you respect the most.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/13/AR2009081303267.html

A SCHERHEZADE FOR OUR TIMES
LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO 1,001 NIGHTS
By Carolyn See

Special to The Washington Post
Friday, August 14, 2009

Shaye Areheart. 365 pp. $24

Some people write about death, dying and tragedy as if they were death, dying and tragedy. Others — God bless them — just don’t carry the genes for drama or melodrama; they look at the world with all its flaws and suffering, and something about the situation strikes them funny.

First-time novelist Alia Yunis writes about the years after 9/11 and how that sorrowful event affected members of the ordinary, law-abiding Arab American community. She writes about wiretapping and FBI surveillance, as well as an old woman dying alone in West Hollywood, with no one to care for her but a grown grandchild, a hapless, unemployed actor. Yunis takes all this material and stirs it into an immigrant-ethnic cocktail laced with political oppression, but before shaking, she adds Scheherazade, the fabled storyteller who kept herself alive by distracting her tyrannical husband for a thousand and one nights.

Fatima Abdullah is 85 years old and close to death. She’s more than half blind, quite deaf and has trouble with arthritis, but her worst ailment is the systematic neglect of her many adult children. They call her every week or so but give her nothing except weather reports from where they live; they don’t want to tell her anything about themselves, and that’s probably wise. Fatima is not a very charming old lady. She’s repetitive; she gets things wrong, refuses to listen and obsesses on things her kids don’t care about: her mother’s old letters (even though she, Fatima, never learned to read), her wedding dress (although nobody seems to want it) and especially the old family home in Lebanon, which she hasn’t seen in 70 years. Which one of her children should she leave it to? (Her children, and the reader, know it would be a miracle if this house has survived the wars and bombing raids that have transpired through the years.)

Fatima is sure she is dying because for the last 991 days she has had an unlikely visitor to keep her company: Scheherazade. Strangely enough, she has been extracting stories out of Fatima instead of the other way around, but whatever way you slice it, there are only nine days left before death is scheduled to appear.

Scheherazade listens to Fatima fairly impatiently: Surely, she must have listened to thousands of tales of young women who came to America from their beloved old country only to find poverty, struggle, homesickness and disappointment. Fatima, while still a bewildered teenager, landed in Detroit, where her first husband worked in the car industry but died before their first child was born. His best friend, Ibrahim, dutifully asked her to become his wife. The rest of their children followed, each, of course, carrying tales to be told.

Some nights Scheherazade flies out on her carpet to see how things are going with the kids. There’s Laila, in her 50s now and still in Detroit, so fed up with the Muslim faith and the injustice of having to suffer breast cancer that she cooks up a mess of pork chops for the elders of the Mosque and passes it off as veal. Or Dina, a spoiled grandchild, who spends a summer at a refugee camp in Lebanon and realizes there’s more to life than cheerleading and makeup. Or Soraya, a successful psychic, who, 20-something years ago, visited a sperm bank so that she might have Amir, the gay grandson who’s taking care of Fatima right now in his West Hollywood bungalow. Or Randa, who lives in Houston, in dreadful fear that she and her husband will be recognized as being of Arab descent. Or Hala, the good girl who grew up to be a doctor but was imprudent enough to marry a Chinese man, thus incurring the wrath of both families. (And that match produced Brenda, a flaky high-school dropout whose hook-up with a black guy produced Decimal, who carries every kind of blood and every kind of allergy in her put-upon veins.)

Needless to say, with all their trials and distractions, none of these family members had anything remotely to do with the events of 9/11. But Amir, the gay guy and would-be actor who takes care of his grandmother, has been turned in to the FBI by a vengeful ex-lover, and the bungalow in West Hollywood is duly wiretapped and watched by a clutch of semi-delusional agents who are trapped in stories of their own devising. (One of them is a zealous woman named Sherri Hazad.) The agents investigate the daylights out of every member of the Abdullah family, but manage to misunderstand almost everything they see. (It doesn’t help that Amir keeps trying out for parts such as Jesus so that his costumes and long fake beard make him appear sinister, indeed.)

This is a plot-heavy book — I’ve left out several characters and events — and I can only say that when death comes, it does so in an unexpected way. But “The Night Counter” is also lighthearted, full of silly plays on words and comedic errors. In this easy-seeming way, the author aims, without being in any way preachy about it, to give us a short history of the Middle East and the Muslim faith in America — to say: Don’t be so quick to misunderstand us; we are, in so many of the ways detailed here, the same as you. She succeeds, very gracefully.

Updates: Book Soup and Christian Science Monitor And Entertainment Weekly

The Night Counter is still #2 Bestseller at Book Soup, thank you West Hollywood.  I should be blogging about San Francisco and Seattle, which have been awesome, but I’m waiting for photos.  Meanwhile, Entertainment Weekly gave it a B+, which reminded me of my students when they say to me, “A B+?  Couldn’t you make it an A- It sounds so much better.”   And here is an excerpted review in the Christian Science Monitor, a paper that I grew up reading as a kid because our neighbor in Minnesota, Mary Ellen Fairbanks, had a subscription and used to tell us all the time, “If you want some legitimate international news, this is the paper to get.”  The review came out on Sunday, a day I actually spent with her two daughters in Seattle, whom I had not see in years and years.

The Night Counter

In a contemporary twist on “1,001 Nights,” a Lebanese grandmother spends her nights telling tales about her Arab-American family.

By Marjorie Kehe August 1, 2009 edition

The Night Counter By Alia Yunis Shaye Areheart Books 384 pp., $24

Scheherazade was the lovely Persian queen who kept herself alive for 1,001 nights by telling stories so enthralling that her murderous monarch couldn’t bear to behead her. So he married her instead. Fatima Abdullah, however, has neither Scheherazade’s narrative flair nor her seductive looks.

Fatima is an elderly Lebanese woman living in Los Angeles with her favorite grandson, Amir. She moved to Detroit from Lebanon seven decades ago and has since had two husbands, 10 children, and 14 grandchildren. At this point, she’s ready to say goodbye to all of it.

Or almost ready, that is. First, she must find a wife for wannabe actor Amir (blithely overlooking his constant insistence that he’s gay) and then arrange for him to inherit her beloved mother’s house in Lebanon. In the meantime, as the successful conclusion of that task drags on, Fatima is content to stay alive for another 1,001 days, spending each night telling her stories to Scheherazade. (Scheherazade apparently, has become immortal, and now travels the globe – beautiful as ever – hearing stories from others.)

Such is the premise of The Night Counter, Alia Yunis’s debut novel, the sweet, funny, meandering story of Fatima, her family, and the uneven process of their assimilation into life in America.

Not all of Fatima’s children, who now live scattered across the US, are entirely likable. In fact, most have disappointed her in one way or another. Her only living son, Bassam has spent much of his adult life on an alcoholic bender in Las Vegas, although the events of 9/11 have now shocked him into a promising sobriety. Several of her daughters have succeeded in pursuing what many would consider to be the American dream – but it’s not necessarily the course their mother would have chosen for them.

Fatima makes a grand protagonist – a somewhat befuddled yet strong, independent character who may have rejected much about the US, but sure loves American sports, particularly the Detroit Tigers. (“How could [the Tigers] get swept by the Twins,” she frets, “a team playing under a plastic bag on spongy cement?”) There is also a hilarious scene in which a special FBI agent trained in Arabic (assigned to watch over this “suspicious” Arab-American family with ties to both Lebanon and Detroit) tries to interview Fatima, who mistakes her for Scheherazade, offering her cooking tips and motherly laments which the FBI agent frantically parses for information on terrorist plots.

The Abdullahs are anything but a Norman Rockwell painting, but in their own way, they are a very typical American family. They may have their differences but they also have their stories. And, as Scheherazade points out, in the end, that’s what holds a family (much like a nation) together.

“Stories keep us entertained and enlightened,” she tells Fatima. “And if we don’t know the ending, all the better.”

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor’s book editor.

I Love My Daily Candy!

Chocolate milk balls, black licorice, gummy bears…but today it was extra sweet: http://www.dailycandy.com/los_angeles/article/70636/Magic+Carpet+Ride

July 15, 2009

Magic Carpet Ride

“The Night Counter,” by Alia Yunis

998, 999, 1,000 ...

Little pigs and lost siblings make for decent bedtime story fodder.

But the life and times of Fatima Abdullah, the madcap matriarch of Alia Yunis’s charming debut, The Night Counter, is even better.

When the 82-year-old woman divorces her husband of more than 30 years, she leaves Detroit to live with her grandson, a struggling actor in L.A. Upon her arrival, fabled Arabian Nights immortal Scheherazade swoops in for the first of what turns out to be nightly visits, leading Fatima to believe she has 1,001 nights to live.

With nine days left, Fatima’s desperate to check the last things off her list: write her funeral instructions, marry off her grandson (P.S. he’s gay), and determine who from her dysfunctional (and disinterested) brood is worthy of her home in Lebanon.

As the four generations of stories and secrets magically unravel across America and the Middle East, you’ll be drawn deeper into the family’s touching, comical tale at every turn.

You can count on it.
Available online at amazon.com or at your local bookstore. Discussion and book signing, Sunday, 4 p.m., at Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 East Colorado Boulevard, between North El Molino and South Oak Knoll Avenues (626-449-5320 or vromansbookstore.com). For more information, go to aliayunis.com.

Review of the Night Counter From Genre Reviews

Saturday, June 27, 2009
The Night Counter-Alia Yunis
The Night Counter
Alia Yunis
Shaye Areheart (Crown), Jul 14 2009, $24.00
ISBN: 9780307453624

Lebanese immigrant Fatima Abdullah is dying, but shows no interest in a reconciliation with her estranged husband Ibraham or for that matter with her children sprawled all over the country as she prefers to ignore their issues. She has no desire to see any of her ten offspring; their children except Amir or even her pregnant great-granddaughter; they did not want to hear her prattle about her 1001 Arabian Nights countdown.

Instead she stays with her gay grandson Amir, who welcomes her insanity in Los Angeles as an actor who knows his town is filled with crazies so his attitude is why not one more with his blood. For the last 992 nights ever since Scheherazade visited her demanding she tells her stories, Fatima has complied. When her tales end, Scheherazade insists so does her life; as happens with everyone. With nine to go, the octogenarian expects to be dead next week even as Ibraham wants to be there for her; as does the FBI who believe the Abdullah family are a sleeper terrorist cell because of Amir’s name and his association with a former lover under federal surveillance due to his former lover Amir being under federal surveillance.

This is a terrific tale that keeps the audience wondering whether Fatima suffers from dementia or is a clever modern day fantasy. Fatima obviously owns the fast-paced novel as she begins her final countdown to what she expects is her death. Her family especially heartbroken Amir, whose lover dumped him during the countdown, provide solid support as all of them except her host assumes she is certifiable; whereas her host thinks she is an eccentric lovable kook. Sherazade plays a key role, but like the Memorex commercial one will ponder is she real or imagined as does the circular logical FBI finding perceived terrorists under any Arab sounding rock. Alia Yunis provides a powerful modern day family thriller with the twist of the FBI “interrogates” Sherazade.