Monday, February 22, 2010

The Night Counter by Alia Yunis

The Night Counter: A NovelThe Night Counter by Alia Yunis
2009, 365 pages

992 nights ago, Fatima Abdullah was visited by Scheherazade for the first time, and every night since then Fatima has told Scheherazade stories of her childhood in Lebanon, counting down the nights until Scheherazade's fateful 1001st and final visit, which will also signal the death of Fatima herself. The matriarch of a large Arab-American family, Fatima tells Scheherazade stories about each her ten children as she tries to decide who is worthy of her house in Lebanon, which she has not visited since she left for the United States many years ago as a bride.
Her children, all somehow having ended up with their own thoughts and ideas, did not make easy heirs. Still, she would have liked to have seen them--and the house--one more time. Alas, life was now too short. She was sound in mind and body at the moment, but a debilitating disease could strike her down at any moment and incapacitate her for her remaining days. One never knew. After all, everyone had a cause of death. (p5)
This book was an entertaining and quick read. It wasn't great, but I did enjoy reading it. Each of Fatima's children have interesting stories and I was never bored as I was introduced to each of them in turn, however at a certain point it became difficult to keep all of her children and their families straight, even with the family tree included at the beginning of the book.

It was interesting to read about how each of Fatima's children related to their parents, ranging from Randa, who moved to Texas with her husband and strived to hide her heritage from her neighbors; to Nadia who became a Professor of Arabic, studying classical Arabic in college when she could have learned it from her parents for free. However, because so short an amount of time was spent with each of Fatima's children, it was hard to really connect with any single one of them, and while their stories were interesting, none were particularly memorable.

Scheherazade was an interesting tour guide into the lives of Fatima's children, riding on her magic carpet to visit them while Fatima slept, and often complaining of her gaudy portrayal in popular culture. Here's one quote from Scheherezade that I particularly enjoyed:
This indoor plumbing of today did cut down on the number of servants needed to run a house, but people no longer knew how to bathe. They actually stood up most of the time and let the water fall on them. Where was the comfort in standing under a waterfall that was not real when the world was filled with real ones? (p264)
I liked how the stories all became related through the impending demise of Fatima, although I wish there was more interaction between all the branches of the family tree throughout the novel. I was also able to guess a few of the twists well before they took place. The ending was satisfying and I enjoyed the book while I was reading it. Here's one last quote that I enjoyed:
No, nothing she hadn't had a chance to do in this lifetime in America still interested her, not even eating cookie dough right out of the tube as her American neighbor in Detroit, Millie, used to do while she watched The Guiding Light. [...] At first, she thought Millie was disgusting for eating raw eggs mixed with God only knew what. Then she started to notice how every crease in Millie's face would iron out and how her shoulders collapsed more and more with each bite, as if she had found paradise after a long journey. (p7)
  Who doesn't love raw cookie dough (except for Fatima, apparently)? ;)


  1. I have never heard of this book. Your review is good - thanks for sharing that!

  2. I LOVE your blog!! To let you know how much I appreciate your hard work and to get to know you a little better, I have an award for you. It's called the "Honest Scrap Award". It's a fun award that I hope you enjoy. You can pick it up here:

    Just One More Paragraph

  3. Oh I'm so glad to see you reviewing this; I bought it a while back, read it and am getting ready to review it as well. I think I felt about it the same way you did- light and entertaining but not exactly great literature. Still, a good time. I thought I was the only person to read it, LOL! :-)

  4. I still love the cover! Too bad it wasn't great, but at least you enjoyed it.

    Une Parole

  5. this sounds really interesting, and I like the cover. great review!

  6. Oh, I love the cookie dough more than the baked cookies for sure! ;)

    Sounds like an interesting story. I like books with multiple characters and stories that are connected in some way. I'll keep this book in mind.

    Diary of an Eccentric

  7. I thought this book was an update on a summer read - Arab American style. Definitely not great literature - you can see the author was trained as a script writer. Maybe she was hoping it was going to be sold for movie rights? I now have to write a University essay on it! It is so cobbled with all that family - where to begin!