Hakawati Self-Portraits

In “The Anger of Exile,” from the March 25 issue of The New York Review, Colm Tóibín discusses two recent novels by writers from Lebanon now living in North America. One of them is Rabih Alameddine’s The Hakawati, set in a Lebanon that is, according to Tóibín, “rendered in luscious, luxuriant detail, with an extraordinary sense of felt life both in the present and in the remembered past, as though Bonnard were an abiding spirit here.” But in Alameddine’s novel, Tóibín writes, “always there is the legacy of war, like gray or black pigment, both in the narrator’s memory and in the very gaps between buildings, the ‘shards of metal, twisted rubble, strips of tile, and broken glass’ that are still ‘scattered across piles of dirt.’”

Tóibín refers to Alameddine’s writing as an act of “painting,” and perhaps it is no surprise to learn that—along with storytelling (a hakawati is a traditional storyteller)—Alameddine has spent time practicing that art. During a period of about four years in the 1990s, he painted more than 270 self-portraits, “hoping to become a better painter,” he says, “and contemplating the idea of an immortality project.” Here are some of his paintings; more can be seen on his Web site,

—Eve Bowen
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