The Ninety-Ninth Floor$ 15
“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
About this book
Shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2015
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 makes 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 creates a new life for himself in the glittery world of New York City's computer games industry. 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 multi-voiced narration, The Ninety-Ninth Floor conveys the brutality that war leaves on the people who experience it. It is also a love story that asks questions about the ability of passion to overcome hatred and difference.Brand: Jana Fawaz Elhassan
“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
“‘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
“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
“It’s hard to imagine a deeper gulf than the one that separates Majd and Hilda, the main characters at the heart of this gloomy reflection on love, war and not belonging. Majd is a Palestinian who lost his mother and was himself badly wounded in the 1982 massacre in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut, while his Lebanese girlfriend, Hilda, is “one of those enemy girls” from a family of Christian Phalangists. Luckily, they live in neutral territory – pre-9/11 New York City – where Hilda studies dance and Majd is a successful video game developer (with an office on the 99th floor). It’s Hilda’s decision to return to Lebanon to visit her family that sets off the extended bouts of introspection by Majd that make up much of Elhassan’s novel. The story’s theme of forbidden love upended by war, combined with the stranger-in-a-strange-land motif, have too long a history in literature to make a fresh telling easy. And Majd’s long-winded soul searching can be tedious. ‘My relationship with Hilda is impossible. Yes, impossible. She is South and I am West. She is North and I am East. She is fire and I am water. She’s over there and I’m not anywhere. She dances and I can barely move my leg.’ It’s the political rather than the personal that’s most engaging for the foreign reader, since there are some truths only a storyteller can tell.” – New York Times
About the Author
Michelle Hartman is Assistant Professor of Arabic Literature and Language at the Institute of Islamic Studies, McGill University. Her main area of research is Modern Arabic Literature, specializing in Lebanese women’s writing. She is the translator (with Maher Barakat) of Muhammad Kamil al-Khatib’s acclaimed novel Just Like a River.