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Ninety-Ninth Floor, The
Jana Fawaz Elhassan; translated by Michelle Hartman

published 2017 • 5 1/4" x 8" • 288 pages
ISBN 9781566560542 • paperback • $15.00


At times as cold and hard-edged as the skyscrapers in its backdrop, The Ninety-Ninth Floor follows the struggles and triumphs of Majed as he manages to make it in Manhattan at the turn of the century, after surviving the devastating 1982 massacre at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp. A Palestinian born and raised in Lebanon, Majed has never seen Palestine but is told by his father that his mother and never-born baby, both slaughtered in the massacre, are waiting for him there. Injured and scarred by the war, he makes a new life for himself in the glittery world of New York City’s computer games industry. He never feels more satisfied with himself than when he is staring out of the window of his sleek, modern office on the ninety-ninth floor.

But with all his success, Majed’s past continues to haunt him. His relationship with Hilda, a Lebanese woman from a right-wing Christian family, exposes his innermost fears, worries and dark secrets. A dancer who has also fled her own oppressive family and its ugly wartime histories, Hilda’s love for Majed is meant to overcome their differences. She tries to reconcile these even as he fantasizes that her family members may have murdered his mother. A multi-voiced narration, The Ninety-Ninth Floor follows the stories of Majed and Hilda through the present and past in their own voices and those of the people who surround them.

An elegy both to the possibilities of New York City and also a Lebanon that both welcomed and shunned Palestinians, The Ninety-Ninth Floor is a love story that asks questions about the ability of passion to overcome hatred and difference. The novel sheds light on the aftermath of Lebanon’s 15-year bloody civil war to reveal that the fighting may have ended, but the conflict didn’t. When his girlfriend decides to come back home to New York, the troubled Majed becomes more aggressive, as Hilda continues to dig deeper and deeper into the stories of her family’s role in the civil war.

Through the complex and contradictory character of Majed, The Ninety-Ninth Floor also maintains a particular focus on complexities of the Palestinian situation. Years after their forced displacement to the Shatila refugee camp in Beirut and later New York City, Majed’s father dreams of returning home to Palestine until the day he dies. Majed tries to hold onto his father’s dream of return, but his ties to the land he has never seen and the homeland is unsure he will ever regain are more complicated than his father’s nostalgic longing.

The narration shifts between 1982 and 2000, Lebanon and New York City, but its reality conveys the brutality every war leaves on the people who experience it. It is as relevant to today as those time periods and speaks to situations in Lebanon, Palestine and the Middle East as a whole, and also conflict zones throughout the world.

Jana Fawaz Elhassan is an award-winning novelist and short story writer from Lebanon. She has worked as a journalist for leading newspapers and TV since 2008. In November 2015, she was featured in the BBC 100 Women Season, an annual two-week season that features inspiring women from around the world. Her first novel won Lebanon’s Simon Hayek Award and her second novel was shortlisted for the International Prize of Arabic Fiction. The Ninety-Ninth Floor—shortlisted for the 2015 International Prize for International Fiction—is her third novel and the first to be translated into English.

Media Reviews

“’To be a Palestinian, either you forget your roots and deny your origins in order to advance in life, or you remain a bullet in the barrel of a rifle waiting to be fired.’ So says Majd, a Palestinian living in New York, working on the 99th floor of a sleek office building, and struggling to keep at bay memories of the 1982 massacre at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon, which killed his pregnant mother and left him scarred and crippled. Now he has fallen in love with Hilda, a Lebanese Christian studying dance in the city, and he’s edgily, anxiously, angrily aware that her people should be regarded as the enemy. Were they linked to the massacre? As Hilda prepares for a trip home, professing her devotion to Majd, we’re about to find out. VERDICT Whether it’s discussing love or war, this arresting meditation on loss is visceral and honest; short-listed for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2015.”
— Library Journal, Starred Review

“Through sharp, unabashed prose, Elhassan lets reader into the lives of Majd and Hilda, two people whose families stood on opposite sides of a war and massacre in Sabra and Shatila Camp, Lebanon, on September 16, 1982. The war destroyed Majd's family and left him scarred and mangled both mentally and physically. Majd and Hilda found each other and fell in love in New York years later, but when Hilda feels compelled to visit her family in Beirut, doubts and fears build walls between the lovers. Can they come to terms with the past in time to save their relationship? Will Hilda ever return to Majd? Elhassan's writing reveals the complex, emotional journey Majd must face as he struggles with the horrors of his pregnant mother's violent murder, his own wounds, and a love that is both strong and destructive. Though he and his father escaped the "angry land" of his childhood, the butchery that destroyed his mother and countless other lives followed him to New York, written on his psyche. Anger, passion, and loss dominate the pages of this gripping, emotional novel as the protagonists face the bloody shadows of their pasts.”
— Publishers Weekly

“Two star-crossed lovers—one Lebanese and the other Palestinian—meet in New York and try to reconcile their contentious romantic and political feelings in this novel from a Lebanese author who’s never been translated into English before. If the personal is indeed political, then the relationship between Majd and Hilda is loaded from the get-go. Majd designs computer games and has adapted well to the American dream, for his business is comfortably established on the 99th floor of a high-rise in New York City. He remains bitter about the past, however, for he was badly wounded and his mother was killed in the September 1982 massacre in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp in Beirut. He meets and falls in love with Hilda, who’s come from Lebanon to study dance and fashion design. She comes from a conservative Christian family and still prays often and fervently. They begin a passionate affair, which Hilda interrupts—much to the dismay of Majd—by revisiting Lebanon to get back to her roots. Majd fears, not without reason, that the distance between them might bring an end to their affair. To complicate the love theme, Elhassan creates another relationship—between Majd’s Lebanese friend Mohsen (or Mike) and his voluptuous Mexican girlfriend, Eva—that echoes the primary bond between Hilda and Majd. The personal becomes really political when it turns out Hilda’s family were Phalangists and thus perhaps in part responsible for committing the atrocities at Sabra and Shatila. Once Hilda is back in Beirut she faces the difficult decision of whether to remain or to return to the States and try to redeem her relationship with Majd. Elhassan moves her story seamlessly across two time periods—2000, the ‘present’ of the action, and 1982, when the massacre took place. Translated from the Arabic, this is an intimate and intense novel that shines a light on both the overt and hidden tensions of the Middle East.”
—Kirkus Reviews

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