A Hero
a novel by Charlotte R. Mendel

Print: 978-1-77133-193-7
ePub: 978-1-77133-194-4
PDF: 978-1-77133-196-8

286 Pages
May 25, 2015
New Fiction All Titles Novel

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A Hero a novel by Charlotte R. Mendel

Finalist, 2016 William Saroyan International Prize for Writing (Fiction)

Finalist, 2016 International Book Awards
Fiction - General

The state war raging outside the home of the Al-Fakhoury extended family, who live in a border town buffeted by the turmoil of the Arab Spring, entwines with the familial conflict raging within. The patriarch of the family, Mohammed, is an aggressive, dominant man who bullies his wife and four children and wages paranoiac diatribes against his sister and her family. It is only when Mohammed leaves for work every morning that the house relaxes into the rich interconnectivity of familial relationships: between Mohammed’s gentle wife Fatima and his sister Rana, who yearns desperately to contribute to their country’s historic fight for freedom; between the twelve-year-old twins and Rana’s gentle son Mazin, whose effeminacy is a source of great anxiety to her. This formidable woman tends her chickens and her garden in the courtyard, sharing the produce with the neighbours and improving the lives of everybody around her, even though she cannot raise a placard with the men. Ahmed, Mohammed’s brother, is an active and passionate participant in the protests, demanding their country’s dictator step down and make way for democracy. When Ahmed is involved in a terrible incident during a demonstration, he wakes up in an underground cavern, surrounded by groaning, dying men stretched out on blankets on the floor, and is stunned by what he discovers there.

“With an ear for dialogue and a deep-seated understanding about the dynamics of a Middle Eastern family, Charlotte Mendel charts the challenging and heartfelt path of a family living during revolutionary times. A Hero is a poignant story of survival through a conflict that is raging not only at state level, but between family members as well. Mendel is a passionate writer.”

—Donna Morrissey

"Charlotte Mendel's tender look at an Arab family's passionate involvements takes us beyond headlines and into a nuanced and complicated world. If you're reading to understand the Middle East, A Hero is there to open your eyes and heart."

—Carole Giangrande, author of Midsummer and A Gardener on the Moon

A Hero

Goodreads Book Giveaway

A Hero by Charlotte Mendel

A Hero

by Charlotte Mendel

Giveaway ends February 15, 2016.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

 
Enter Giveaway

Charlotte R. Mendel was born in Canada, and has lived in England, France and Israel. Her first novel, Turn Us Again, won the H.R. Percy Novel Prize, the Beacon Award for Social Justice, and the Atlantic Book Award for First Novel. She lives in Enfield, Nova Scotia, with six goats, two cats, eleven chickens, thousands of bees, two children, and one husband.

A Tangled Web: an excerpt from the review
reviewed by Dorothy F. Lane
Asian Canadian Critique Beyond the Nation. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 227 (Winter 2015): 155-57
https://canlit.ca/article/a-tangled-web/


If there is a single theme that reverberates through all three of these recent novels, it is that human relationships, personalities, places, political and social issues are far from straightforward or static.

Both characters and readers seek clarity and order in the unravelling of stories that cross locations and generations, historical events and diverse people. However, it is that web of ambiguity, and the disentangling and reconstitution of secrets—“the things that are hidden”—that impel these absorbing books. Math becomes an instrument both of solution, and of infinite complexity.

In Nova Scotia writer Charlotte Mendel’s a hero, the captivating gender-fluid child, Mazin, enjoys reviewing his cousin’s photographic archive, and prefers his studies in mathematics over other subjects; in his view, every problem should have a solution. In attempting to arrive at a definition of heroism during the turmoil of the Arab Spring, he makes a list of the qualities he associates with a hero; however, as the narrative weaves through the perspectives of family members, and their responses to the protests, increasingly more individuals can be defined as heroic. This is Mendel’s second novel, rooted in her experiences living in the Middle East, and focusing on the Al-Fakoury family: Mohammed, the authoritative and apparently conservative self-declared head of the family, his wife Fatima, sister and brother-in-law Rana and Hamid, and brother-in-law Ahmed, who chooses to take an active position in the protests. In this remarkably sensitive and intricate book, even the children of the family are carefully developed. The novel motivates its reader to question biases and easy answers, building sympathy for each perspective as the stories of family members unfold and connect.

Mendel thus challenges dogmatism—religious and political—throughout the book. In a recent interview with Lindsay Jones, she noted that a woman struggling to feed her family and maintain a home for her children can be as heroic as a protestor with a placard: “that person is giving over their entire soul for the protection and safety of other people . . . what could be more heroic than that?” Indeed, if the novel has a weakness, it is the ongoing analysis of heroism that seems too explicit in places, especially as secrets involving family members are unveiled. The strongest element is its probing of the web of power within the home, just as significant as the revolution outside its doors.

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A Hero by Charlotte R. Mendel
reviewed by The Miramichi Reader - October 15, 2015
http://miramichireader.ca/2015/10/hero-review/

Nova Scotian author Charlotte R. Mendel has written a different kind of novel with A Hero (2015, Inanna Publications*). It is different in that it concerns the lives of an extended Muslim family living in an unnamed post-revolutionary Muslim country. While the family is Muslim, it could be any family living anywhere, from the inner city to the suburbs. In fact, as I started reading the book, it seemed to me like a Muslim version of "All in the Family". That is not meant to take anything away from the story Ms. Mendel has conceived. There are similarities: a conservative, outspoken family head, his timid, loving wife, and his younger, more liberal, if not outright activist children and in-laws.

Meet the Family

But this is no TV comedy, and it is no Muslim soap opera either. It is a serious under-the-microscope study of a family (considered middle-class by their countries standards) living in close conditions under the tough-loving oversight of Mohammed Al-Fakhoury, the family patriarch. The rest of his family consists of: his wife Fatima, their children Abdul and Ali (twins), daughter Zayna and baby Naaman. Then there is: Mohammed's older sister Rana, her husband Hamid and their only child, a son, Mazin. Finally, there is the activist Ahmed, Fatima's younger brother.
"Rana leaned towards Ahmed. “I wish I could go to the demonstrations. It’s terrible to believe in something so much and not be able to participate.” Rana couldn’t go anywhere, even if they organized a demonstration just for women. Her brother Mohammed wouldn’t permit it, and that was that."

Sources of Tension

There are several sources of tension at play against the backdrop of a post-revolutionary regime that is having increasing difficulty in subduing revolutionaries (like Ahmed) who want the next government to be a democratic one, and they want it now. Rana supports Ahmed, and would like to participate in the demonstrations too, but women are not allowed. This causes problems between siblings Rana and Mohammed and  since it is his house, his word is law. There are also other issues covered in the text, like the use of the niquab, women's rights, and political and religious freedom. Using a middle-class conservative Muslim family allows Ms. Mendel to cleverly cover all these topics to good effect throughout A Hero.

What is a Hero?

This is the question posed by some of the characters, particularly young Zayna, the self-appointed spy of the family who listens at the doors every night so she can try to understand everyone's feelings in order to keep household life harmonious as her father would like it to be. Of her father, Zayna thinks:
"It must be very hard to behave well when everybody thinks you are unreasonable."

She scribbles all these thoughts in her journal every night. Also in her journal are four criteria for what she believes a hero is:

Someone who fights for what he believes in
Someone who protects his family from harm
Someone who is noble
Someone who helps others even when it puts them in danger

Actually, each character in the book meets one or more of the criteria, from Ahmed on one end of the scale to the women on the other. It makes for a very interesting read to see how each character develops and reacts to the worsening conditions outside the home. Ms. Mendel accomplishes this character development by making each one the main subject of a chapter so we eventually get to see the family through varying perspectives. Especially insightful are the chapters pertaining to the women. As noted earlier, Rana is the most passionate and outspoken one in the house, but timid Fatima and Zayna, the little facilitator, become more fully developed as we get to know their intimate thoughts and personal feelings.

Conclusion

I liked reading this book, if for no other reason than getting an insight into a 'moderate/progressive' Muslim family (Mohammed even prohibits Fatima to teach religion to their children). Living amongst daily demonstrations, machine gun fire, and killing in the streets is something we, in this part of the world have difficulty understanding. I think A Hero excels in both these areas and as such is a worthwhile read.

Charlotte R. Mendel was born in Canada, and has lived in England, France and Israel. Her first novel, Turn Us Again, won the H.R. Percy Novel Prize, the Beacon Award for Social Justice, and the Atlantic Book Award for First Novel. She lives in Enfield, Nova Scotia, with six goats, two cats, eleven chickens, thousands of bees, two children, and one husband.

*Inanna Publications is a registered charitable organization. Their editorial mission is to publish visionary books and journal issues that reflect the depth, breadth and diversity of women’s lives across Canada.

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A Hero by Charlotte Mendel
reviewed by Atlantic Books Today - September 17, 2015
http://atlanticbookstoday.ca/

This second novel is an in-depth exploration of the complex dynamics of a family living in an unnamed Middle Eastern country during a time of democratic upheaval. Protests and increasing violence loom in the back­ ground, yet the author's focus is on the turmoil playing out on the home front for her six main characters.

They are: Rana, a woman with a lust for life and a willingness to speak her mind; her brother Mohammed, a domineering patriarch who is deeply worried about how the changes underway will affect his family and country; Fatima, Mohammed's wife, who accepts her passive role; Ahmed, Mohammed's brother, who is active in the protests; Zaynah, an eavesdropping girl; and Mazin, a clever boy with effeminate tendencies that worry his parents.

Mendel tells the story through the eyes of these six characters, revealing the course of events and the complex family dynamics from differing points of view. A Hero a fascinating novel for readers who enjoy going deep inside the minds of multiple characters.

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Mendel hosting author reading and book signing
The Enfield Weekly Press, June 23, 2015
http://www.enfieldweeklypress.com/2015/06/23/mendel-hosting-author-reading-and-book-signing/

ELMSDALE: For local author Charlotte Mendel, writing is a way to break down stereotypes and prejudices.

With her new book, A Hero, Mendel breaks down many of the pre-conceived notions of the Middle East. Focusing around a large family, each chapter is told from a different character’s perspective.

The state war raging outside the home of the Al-Fakhoury extended family, who live in a border town buffeted by the turmoil of the Arab Spring, entwines with the familial conflict raging within. The patriarch of the family, Mohammed, is an aggressive, dominant man who bullies his wife and four children and wages paranoiac diatribes against his sister and her family. Ahmed, Mohammed’s brother, is a passionate participant in the protests, demanding their country’s dictator step down and make way for democracy. When Ahmed is involved in a terrible incident during a demonstration, he is stunned by what he discovers

This is Mendel’s second book and to celebrate, she has been having a book tour. She has an event locally coming up on June 27, an author reading and book signing at the Colchester-East Hants Library in Elmsdale, starting at 11 a.m. The reading will be followed by refreshments.

While the book is set in the Middle East, Mendel stresses that it’s the characters that readers really get involved with. The setting is irrelevant once readers become engrossed with the family focused on.

“It’s about the characters,” said Mendel. “They’re alive and vibrant, and because we love them so much we really start to enter their lives.

“There’s no right or wrong, there’s no truth or no truth. It shows how similar we are. Human beings are human beings.”

Mendel has already done launches in Toronto, Halifax, the Stewiacke Library, and in Wolfville. But she is excited to finally bring her book home.

“With an ear for dialogue and a deep-seated understanding about the dynamics of a Middle Eastern family, Mendel charts the challenging and heartfelt path of a family living during revolutionary times,” said Donna Morrissey. “A Hero is a poignant story of survival through a conflict that is raging not only at state level but between family members as well. Mendel is a passionate writer.”

For more information on Mendel’s book, visit her website, www.charlottemendel.com, or check out her fan page on Facebook.

The mother of two and seasonal lecturer with Dalhousie University isn’t showing any sign of slowing down her writing ways, hinting that she already has many ideas and plans in place for book number three.

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Charlotte Mendel – At Home Here in Nova Scotia
Sea and Be Scene, June 10, 2015
http://seaandbescene.com/2015/06/charlotte-mendel-at-home-here-in-nova-scotia/

Occupation: Writer and Teacher

Place of Birth: Halifax, NS

Currently Resides: Halifax, NS

Where’s your favourite place in Nova Scotia to grab a coffee?

Just Us!

Where’s your favourite place in Nova Scotia to grab something sweet?

Julien's Bakery

Where’s your favourite place to shop in Nova Scotia?

Loathe shopping passionately. Rather like the dollar store.

Where in Nova Scotia would we stand to see your favourite view?

Tancook Island

Name 3 things we’ve gotta do when we visit Nova Scotia:

1. Whale watching

2. Louisburg

3. Visit an exhibition. I haven’t seen the exact combination of animals and fair elsewhere in the world – I think it must be uniquely Nova Scotian.

What makes Nova Scotia such a special place on earth for you?

The fact that you can live on an isolated farm and only travel forty minutes on a relatively empty highway to get to the capital city. So someone like me can have goats, chickens, bees, a large garden and complete privacy, and still spend very little time commuting.

For more on Charlotte visit charlottemendel.com

A Note of Noteworthiness

Charlotte Mendel is getting set to release her latest work A Hero and will be kicking off the Nova Scotia leg of her book signing tour at The Company House in Halifax, Tuesday, June 9, 2015.

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Charlotte Mendel explores themes of power, family in A Hero
Lindsay Jones - The Chronicle Herald, June 7, 2015
http://thechronicleherald.ca/books/1291751-charlotte-mendel-explores-themes-of-power-family-in-a-hero

Goat lady is not exactly the title award-winning author Charlotte Mendel coveted when she moved back to Nova Scotia 17 years ago, but she’ll take it.

Most mornings, Mendel leashes up Churro, Willow and Nibbles to go for a walk near her home in Enfield — a habit that’s earned her the goat lady moniker in the rural community.

Mendel’s goats are not exactly pets, but provide milk, cheese and occasionally meat to her family of four. The goats also provide an opening for neighbours to connect with her as they often see her out with them.

After living many years abroad, including a decade in the Middle East, Mendel says, she felt judged and like an outsider when she moved back to Nova Scotia. She drew on these feelings to form the plot of her second novel, A Hero, about a family in the Middle East struggling through revolutionary times.

“We’re all more similar than we think. And I think it’s the same as the Middle East. The more that we understand about the different personalities and similarities, the more we realize all of us are human beings,” said Mendel, who is in her 40s.

The story is a compelling and honest window into the personal lives of the Al-Fakhoury family, set against the backdrop of political turmoil during the Arab Spring.

The characters are vibrant, identifiable people experiencing, like most families, power struggles inside the home.

There’s Mohammed, the tyrannical man of the house. Rana is Mohammed’s critical and strong-willed sister. Fatima is the quiet and compliant wife of Mohammed. Plus there’s a bunch of children, chickens and a couple of uncles.

The story explores the idea of what qualities constitute a hero and as the reader discovers, there is no one definition of a hero; each character is heroic in their own way.

“A woman in the house who is struggling to provide varied food in a rationed environment and provide children with a sense of normalcy has the same attitude as someone who goes out to a protest and holds a placard high,” Mendel said.

“It’s in a smaller way, but that person is giving over their entire soul for the protection and safety of other people. That’s what the women are doing behind the scenes and what could be more heroic than that?” Mendel says.

As the story unfolds, the reader may confront some of his or her own prejudices. Mendel says she wants the book to show there is no good and evil, just different perspectives.

Mendel grew up in Mahone Bay with parents originally from England. Her dad was an English professor at Dalhousie University, her mother a nurse and midwife. She spent her youth summering throughout various parts of England with her parents, leaving her feeling slightly disconnected from her peers in the small town she grew up.

After high school, she travelled and went to university in Tel Aviv where she met her Israeli-born husband. The two later moved to Turkey.

Today, her life consists of raising her school-aged son and daughter, writing novels and occasionally teaching conflict management and creative writing classes. Most mornings, she’s writing at her secluded seven-acre homestead, but that’s only after she’s finished collecting eggs from the chickens, milking and walking the goats, taking her children to the bus stop and doing some meditation to get her mind focused.

Besides being enjoyed by readers, Mendel hopes A Hero may aid further understanding of what’s happening in the Middle East and lead to a greater acceptance of Muslims.

Mendel’s first novel Turn Us Again won the HR Percy Novel Prize, the Beacon Award for Social Justice and Atlantic Book Award for first novel.

Lindsay Jones is a Halifax-based freelance writer.

     His nostrils were assailed by a medley of aromas as soon as he entered the kitchen.
He ignored the chair Fatima proffered and started to lift lids off pots, inhaling
the tomatoey, garlicky fragrance. One pot was filled with a variety of vegetables,
simmering in a tomato sauce. Rice steamed leisurely beside it, emitting scents
of cumin and chilies. On the table lay a number of small dishes, brimming with
olives, hummus, baba ganouj, stuffed grape leaves and tabouleh salad.
     His arms were tugged from both sides, and he smiled down at the upturned
faces of his twin nephews. “Tell us about today! What happened, Khalo Ahmed?”
they begged, and he turned around smilingly to look at the row of expectant
faces before him. The twins Abdul and Ali, his twelve-year-old niece, Zaynah,
Fatimah’s sister-in-law, Rana, and her son Mazin, all gazed at him, eager for news.
     “It was very similar to yesterday, and the day before, and all the days,” Ahmed
said. “There was a huge crowd of people, all shouting and waving their fists.”
     “What were they shouting?” interrupted Abdul, unable to contain himself.
     “They were chanting, ‘Bye Qaddafi, Bishur next!’ over and over again. It was
like a huge wave of voices, beating against the rock of soldiers.”
     “But water cannot beat rock,” chimed in Ali.
     “Yes it can. Slowly, with time, water beats rock into sand.”
     “I hope it won’t take as long as that,” Rana quipped.
     “Of course not,” Ahmed said. “How long did it take with Qaddafi? Mere
months. Anyway, the soldiers started throwing tear gas and we had to run.”
     …Rana leaned towards Ahmed. “I wish I could go to the demonstrations. It’s
terrible to believe in something so much and not be able to participate.” Her
intense face peered into his. He could see the restlessness in the black depths of
her eyes. She needed something to focus her enormous energy on….
     “Women don’t go to demonstrations.”
     Rana shot to her feet. “That is not true! I know they do!”
     …Ahmed felt irritated. “Very few go. Sometimes women have their own
demonstrations, just the women, but there wasn’t a single woman there today;
it was all men.” He didn’t mention the woman’s scream he had heard when the
first tear canister fell; what was the use? Rana couldn’t go anywhere, even if they
organized a demonstration just for women. Her brother Mohammed wouldn’t
permit it, and that was that.

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