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.”
“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
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.