Writers like Alameddine are interesting because living in more than one culture (he grew up in Lebanon and Kuwait, then moved to England, then to America) gives unique flavors to the writing. An article I read for my thesis is “Home: Territory and Identity” by J.M. Wise. It’s an interesting read and I definitely recommend it. One of the key ideas he talks about is the concept of a “Third Culture Kid”. Typically, these are the children born in one country of parents of another, so the children belong simultaneously to both their parents’ culture and their own birth culture. As a result, “they are not truly of the culture of their parents, or of the culture in which they live, but form a third culture” (306). For our purposes here, just take out “children” and replace it with “books” or “stories.”
Rabih Alameddine’s The Hakawati is a good example of a “Third Culture Kid” as it combines the culture of origin, in this case, of the Middle East, with American and creates something new in the combination. The form of the novel itself demonstrates the merger as the novel’s format is modeled on oral story telling tradition, blending conventions of the written novel with oral performance.
The first few lines of the novel make the influence from oral tradition explicit, “Listen. Allow me to be your god. Let me take you on a journey beyond imagining. Let me tell you a story” (1). Oral story telling technique is exemplified not only when the narrator occasionally addresses the reader directly, as in the previous quote, but also in the structure of the book, which is multi-layered and includes stories about telling stories as well as stories within stories. There are points in the novel where there are as many as four layers of stories within stories.
None of this is a typical western story telling structure, yet he is writing for a western audience. The writing is all about combining the two perspectives and, by doing so, creating something that belongs to neither and is a combination of both.