Alexandra Chreiteh; translated from the Arabic by Michelle Hartman
published 2012 • 5 1/4" x 8" • 121 pages
“Savage and heady debut…"Always Coca-Cola"...embeds, in a deceptively simple story, a razor-sharp commentary on how young women in Beirut today are buffeted by the alternately conflicting and conspiring forces of hegemony, capitalism, and patriarchy—without, vitally, ever using such dry terms...we see the serious intention behind the gentle satire…Remarkably, given its short length—a little over a hundred pages— and its uncomplicated, at times even frothy, style, "Always Coca-Cola" comes off as a work of searing intensity that powerfully conjures the atmosphere of contemporary Beirut; it’s a testament to translator Michelle Hartman’s skill that a novel written mostly, but not entirely, in Modern Standard Arabic, the ‘literary language’ used in the Arab world, reads so naturally and humorously in English…”—Words without Borders
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The story of three different young women marks the literary debut of an amazing writer from Lebanon
Always Coca-Cola is the story of three very different young women attending university in Beirut: Abeer, Jana, and Yasmine. The narrator, Abeer Ward (fragrant rose, in Arabic), daughter of a conservative family, admits wryly that her name is also the name of her father’s flower shop. Abeer’s bedroom window is filled by a view of a Coca-Cola sign featuring the image of her sexually adventurous friend, Jana. From the novel’s opening paragraph—“When my mother was pregnant with me, she had only one craving. That craving was for Coca Cola”—first-time novelist Alexandra Chreiteh asks us to see, with wonder, humor, and dismay, how inextricably confused naming and desire, identity and branding. The names—and the novel’s edgy, cynical humor—might be recognizable across languages, cultures, and geographies. But Chreiteh’s novel is first and foremost an exploration of a specific Lebanese milieu. Critics in Lebanon have responded in a storm, calling the novel “an electric shock” and finding that the problems of its characters reflect grave “social anomalies.” Read Chreiteh and see what the storm is all about.
Alexandra Chreiteh is pursuing a Ph.D. in comparative literature at Yale University.
Michelle Hartman is an associate professor of Arabic and francophone literature at McGill University.
“When university student Abeer Ward looks out the window of her Beirut bedroom, she sees a giant Coca-Cola ad across the street featuring her best friend Yana. The influence of the Occident persists not only in the billboard—and Abeer’s Coke-bottle-shaped birthmark—but in the choices she and her friends make…Chreiteh’s character development and figurative language is strong, and there are moments of humor.”—Publishers Weekly
“Chreiteh keeps up a lively dialogue (trialogue?) between the main characters, and eventually they all learn what it means to be 20-somethings in modern Beirut…Chreiteh is a fresh voice in the Arab world.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Lebanon is an Arab country that faces west. The Lebanese embrace Western institutions—i.e., European café culture, American retail brands—but Lebanon remain within the Arab world…This makes cosmopolitan Beirut a most interesting hybrid: a westernized Arab city. It’s against this backdrop that Alexandra Chreiteh and Michelle Hartman write Always Coca-Cola, a lightly sketched novella about young women in contemporary Lebanon.…Always Coca-Cola’s best moments illustrate the fault-line between tradition and modernity… The author’s greatest talent may be her ability to use a little scene to make a powerful point…The femininity vs. feminism tension at the book’s core could be examined just as easily in numerous settings, even certain subcultures within the U.S….Always Coca-Cola is about the simmering tension between tradition and modernity as experienced by young middle-class Lebanese women. This is a great premise for a novel …an intelligent little book, and worth the read.”—New York Journal of Books
“… a wonderful, head-shaking, humorous and sometimes sad journey through and around the forces menacing young women’s lives and bodies, in Lebanon and beyond.”—Egyptian Independent
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