Once again, a Lebanese village inspires the voice of an emerging author to put him on the path of many intellectuals who preceded him, prominent among them the renowned artist Gibran Khalil Gibran. Born and raised in the hometown of Gibran, Bcharreh, Charbel Rahme was also inspired by the holiness and magnificence of this place to become a writer who would voice his perceptions of the world around him and craft deep social messages through unconventional stories written in the Lebanese dialect. In the interview below, Rahme talks about his new book …W’talt Bayi, equivalent to “…and I killed my father.”
What is the story about and why did you choose this title?
The story talks about a young man who’s given a second chance by life after a tragic incident and decides to make things right this time. After years of suffering from an abusive father, Jack now goes looking for this father who’s been out of the picture for years. He seeks to avenge his mother and sister and get rid of the torment he’s been living with for so long. This is the story of a family that faces detrimental challenges. The story has several characters, each of whom has something in common with me and with people I know. It is inspired by the life experiences of people I know, whether dear friends or just acquaintances. The title sounds aggressive, yet the story is so smooth and realistic. The reason I chose such a title is to attract the reader and trigger their curiosity for the sake of encouraging them to pick up the book and read it. Unfortunately, the reading public is somehow modest in Lebanon and the region, and one of the things I aim for is to encourage people to read again especially the young generation.
What is the message you want to highlight through this story?
It is a story inspired by some bitter experiences witnessed in today society, where so many families suffer from the dilemma of fragmentation and separation. I want to highlight the suffering of a family that is disintegrating, focusing mainly on the feelings and perspective of every family member rather than just the challenges causing this suffering. The sequence of events is cosmopolitan as you move from one epoch to another and from one country to another in every other page. Each character narrates their own part and are given their own voice to express their feelings and their pain. The book may seem confusing, but such confusion adds to the spirit of the story as it all connects together at the very end.
Why did you choose to write using the Lebanese dialect instead of formal Arabic or a foreign language?
This is the first novel written in the Lebanese dialect. Apart from some poetry books, no one has written a novel using Lebanese dialect before, which is why it was a bit risky to take this initiative and write this novel using such unconventional style. However, using a different language than Arabic wouldn’t make the story as authentic as I have in mind. It makes me feel as if I am imitating a language that is not my own and using a voice that is not my voice. Even formal Arabic, which I master as a journalist, was also a bit far from the authenticity of expression I was seeking. Thus, I took the challenge of using an unconventional voice for the novel and I found that it renders the experience more personal.
This dialect is also a chance for the reader to interact on a deeper level with the story, as it relates to and touches every member of a family whether a father, mother, daughter, sister, or brother. You are reading a very easy and flowing language but you are also thinking throughout the story. The story is sophisticated in structure, yet easily flowing in terms of language. The good news is that I have received rewarding feedback on my previous novel, which was also written in the Lebanese dialect. Even the wider Arab audience expressed encouragement and liked the book and the style. Readers from Tunisia, Morocco, Palestine, Jordan and other Arab countries were excited about the book and admired the local dialect. Such positive feedback encouraged me to take this risk again with this novel.
Is the book for a particular audience or age range?
While it may seem as it is addressed for Lebanese readers, the book and the story are relevant to every reader and every social context. As for age, it is also appropriate to all ages where each will find their message from the book and relate to it differently.
What do you aim for as a Lebanese, as an artist, and as a person?
On a personal level, writing helps me find myself, thus I aim to develop myself as a writer through learning from local and international authors and, of course, my readers. I also aim to touch people’s feelings on a deeper level, because for me writing is all about touching people and portraying genuine feelings. Without this sentimentality in writing, stories wouldn’t be as valuable to people and writing would not be as fulfilling to authors. As an artist, I want people to read again, I want to reestablish the fading connection with books and the smell of paper, which is why I select a certain kind of paper. For me, the physical book is indispensable. However, most importantly, I want this story to trigger every family to reflect on their flaws and reconsider their actions and reactions towards each other.
My voice as an author of this book aims to highlight how problems and challenges rob us of our time with loved ones when selfishness dictates our everyday personal, romantic and family life. The message is that sometimes we must indeed love and embrace ourselves, but we must also be aware of what we leave behind for others. I want parents to reconsider the separation or divorce option and think of the suffering they would be inflicting on their kids and loved ones. Yet, I also want children to understand their parents’ conditions and remain sensible in such hard times. The point is that family flaws and problems affect each member differently and inflict so much pain on everyone. As a Lebanese, I will be a bit blunt and straightforward in terms of how we see ourselves. We always assume that we are highly cultured. We live on the reputation of legends such Gibran Khalil Gibran, Mickail Naimy and others. However, when we observe our youth, we unfortunately witness a generation that tends to carry political banners and immerse in corrupt politics while simultaneously calling for principles that cannot exist along their political affiliation and zest, not to mention the obsession with appearances and show off. The country does indeed have a diversified and rich cultural scene, yet we need more people to be socially involved, decently cultured and politically conscious. And I hope I can contribute to that.
With such insightful ideas and socially deep story, Rahme indeed contributes to the cultural scene he believes worthy of his country and his ancestors. Besides, he adds more beauty and charm to a village so historically rich and culturally generous. Knowing the value and power of words, Rahme will sure craft more stories to voice experiences and feelings that touch every human. He as well proves once again that art is always universal and relevant.