Origins: A Memoir (Paperback)
Origins, by the world-renowned writer Amin Maalouf, is a sprawling, hemisphere-spanning intergenerational saga.
Set during the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the first quarter of the twentieth, in the mountains of Lebanon and in Havana, Cuba, Origins recounts the family history of the generation of Maalouf's paternal grandfather, Boutros. Why did Boutros, a poet and educator in Lebanon, travel across the globe to rescue his younger brother, Gebrayel, who had settled in Havana?
Maalouf is an energetic and amiable narrator, illuminating the more obscure corners of late Ottoman nationalism, the psychology of Lebanese sectarianism, and the dynamics of family quarrels. He moves with great agility across time and space, and across genres of writing. But he never loses track of his story's central thread: his quest to lift the shadow of legend from his family's past.
Origins is at once a gripping family chronicle and a timely consideration of Lebanese culture and politics.
“This memoir illuminates the way we make narrative out of pieces of fact and rumor and also serves as a revealing glimpse into the complexities of a part of the world to which nationhood came late and where borders remain unusually porous and slippery . . . A journey well worth taking, an elegant meditation on mortality and our relationship to the past.” —The Washington Post
“In this riveting and intriguing memoir, he describes himself and his family as a rather nomadic clan, without deep emotional ties to place or religious affiliation…The result is an excellent family saga that also works as a mystery and even as a discourse on the political culture of Lebanon. Maalouf is a gifted writer; he has a knack for maintaining dramatic tension as he reveals his efforts to uncover his family's secrets, layer by layer, as his search extends over three continents. This is an intensely personal and compelling story.” —Jay Freeman, Booklist
“Maalouf's narrative gains in emotional immediacy from its lack of the polished presentation often found in memoirs…His kins' reactions to tragedies and triumphs both personal and universal add to the book's vibrant texture and tone. A shimmering portrait of a clan molded by history and personal whim.” —Kirkus Reviews
“What do you get when one of the Arab world's greatest writers, a Prix-Goncourt-winning historical novelist, decides to write a memoir? A marvel. Amin Maalouf has given us the engrossing story of his grandfather, a prescient, remarkable man, as well as the story of his time and place--how the Middle East was formed, politically, geographically, historically, and not least, psychologically. An extraordinary achievement.” —Rabih Alameddine, author of The Hakawati
“Maalouf's novels re-create the thrill of childhood reading, that primitive mixture of learning about something unknown or unimagined . . .” —Claire Messud, The Guardian
“One of the best European writers to have emerged in the last decade.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Maalouf skillfully weaves the threads of contemporary history into his fictional narratives . . . In each of his books, he takes a historical figure about whom few facts are known, puts him in the context of this time and place and adds a myriad of invented but historically plausible details. The finished portraits have the intricate richness of oriental tapestries.” —International Herald Tribune
“What is common to Maalouf's wide-ranging works--six of his novels have been translated into English--is his apparent belief that through examining and understanding a particular historical period we can gain a better understanding of our present time. Indeed, if you want to understand what's going on in the world at this moment, you could certainly do worse than to read Maalouf on the past.” —Ian Sansom, The Guardian