Tribes with Flags [ePub]

by Charles Glass

Glass, a journalist, travels from Turkey to Syria and Lebanon, intending to end his sojourn in the area (which he, using the archaic term, calls “The Levant”) at Israel.However, in the midst of interviewing of generals presidents, taxi drivers and unemployed youths, sitting with village elders drinking coffee, and getting caught up in a centuries-old and re-sparked clan feud, he is kidnapped by Shiite fundamentalists.

This has the makings of a fascinating travel narrative.Unfortunately, Glass seems to have very little idea of how to fine-tune prose.Some of the more glaring problems are temporal confusion (I often didn’t understand where Glass was in his story when he would refer to “a previous visit”), an odd tendency to dwell on people’s appearance and lineage, and —- worst of all —- a tiresome and needless verbatim reporting of all conversation.Often this verbatim report is deleterious rather than conducive to getting an idea or message across, since people ramble, or engage in conversational jousting, rather than express ideas clearly.Obviously, some quoting is justified: what Lebanese youths think about the movie “Platoon,” or interviews with Syrian taxi drivers, are great, but...“’When,’ I asked, ‘was the hotel built?”(Just tell the reader when!)"Shall we have orange juice?"(Just say, if you must, that you drank juice while talking.)"This labneh is delicious.""How long can it [Beirut's anarchy] go on?"(Isn’t that the whole point?)"When did this cafe close?" —- We don't need to read every syllable of the pointless small talk people make in the daily course of their lives.There's even a lengthy dialogue beginning: "Do you know anything about this church?""No.""When was it built.""I don't know."On the plus side, I did feel that the kidnapping story was interesting, and revealed a good deal about the kinds of people who become "militia" members in the Middle East, as well as the fundamentalists' purblindness to the absurdity of their own actions.

13.10.2011

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