One of the rewards of being the book club maven is that I have to be on the lookout for books outside of my comfort zone. In my bio (which you can see just down there) I describe myself as someone who reads everything, just some types of books more frequently than others. That applies to proper Literary Fiction as well. More often than not, I’m rolling around in the genres.
However, I try to give the people what they want and there were several requests for Non-Western Literature, which led me to a few weeks of research, several books for a vote, and our final choice of In Praise of Hatred. I do not vote for book club books unless there is a tie. But, this one stood out to me and I was hoping that it might be the choice. Now I wonder what magic blurb writers have that I was so thoroughly tricked.
Over 150 words into this review, I feel safe saying that I struggled with this book. As I’m about to confess in the Facebook Group, I did not even finish it. I simply gave up somewhere around page 250. With that said, if there were any last minute Hail Mary passes accomplished by Khalifa I missed them. So take all you read with a grain of salt.
Throughout the book we are in the mind of an unnamed narrator, and I have a tough time with those types of narrators in general. I think it is because they often appear in stories structured without dialogue (which based on the article I read from the Guardian, Khaled Khalifa is a screenwriter known for his talent with dialogue – I feel betrayed!) . The other compounding influence is that to the best of my limited knowledge this novel is in first person present tense or first person stream of consciousness. It bothers me, the repetitive nature of being told rather than being allowed to see, as we are limited to what the narrator is repeating to herself/the reader.
My other major complaint is that by the time I got to the end of the first section I was pretty well convinced that Khalifa was overly focused on the physicality of femaleness with no particular narrative driver. I am a lady person. I promise you I am way less in tune with my physical being than Khalifa would have you believe, nor would I describe it in the sort of overly flowery language that he utilizes. My biggest reminder is that my breasts are often in my way. Basically, my body is more annoyance than discovery and I don’t remember it being otherwise in my late teens. Which is why, I’m going to come right out and say it – this is sexist writing. The level of preoccupation with the female form, even from a character displaying same sex attraction, negates the positives of this work.
That said, there are things I liked, and while the narrative arc didn’t pull me in, the inner life of our narrator did. One of the consistent refrains we hear from her is that she is full of hatred; it acts almost as an incantation for her to stabilize herself, to center herself once more in her body. I found this fascinating. We would hope, or expect a person to focus on a positive attribute, but it is so very often not the case. We focus on a negative (for me its frustration, my frustration pushes me through) and wallow in it.
I am glad at the end of the day that we decided to attempt this book. I feel strongly about reading banned books, and books that are told from points of view outside our own. I just wish it had meant more to me.