Canceled Memories

BOOK REVIEW by Willard Manus

Thanks to the “Middle East Literature in Translation” program at Syracuse University Press we are able to read works from countries like Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon. The latter country is represented by CANCELED MEMORIES by Nazik Saba Yared (translated from the Arabic by Nadine Sinno). Set in Beirut during the Lebanese civil war, the novel centers on Huda Al-Muhktar, a middle-class woman struggling to maintain her identity in the face of ferocious opposition from her own family.

Huda, a university professor, considered herself happily married to an emancipated man. But that illusion was shattered when Sharif, a civil servant, accused her of being unfaithful (all because he saw another man put his hand on her shoulder). The rigidity of his patriarchal (and Muslim) mind-set did not allow for any discussion. He divorces her and takes custody of their teenaged daughter Dina (again, the laws and mores of Lebanese society are heavily slanted in favor of the male).

From that point on Huda must fight desperately to keep from losing all ties to her daughter. It’s a bitter and lonely fight; few friends or family members take her side; and the ongoing, bloody civil war constantly intrudes on her life, threatens to drive her mad.
Huda’s struggle for love and survival in a cruel and chaotic world is what gives Yared’s novel its urgency and strength.