Ports of Call

Amin Maalouf

translated from the French by Alberto Manguel
Harvill Press 2001
A book review by Danny Yee © 2002 http://dannyreviews.com/
Ossyane's father was the son of the mad daughter of a deposed Ottoman sovereign and an Adana physician; his mother was an Armenian. Raised in Beirut, he was given the name Ossyane ("Disobedience") and educated to be a revolutionary leader... Studying medicine in Montpellier at the outbreak of the Second World War, he joins the French Resistance, working first as a courier and then a forger. Returning home as a hero, he marries a Jewish woman met during the war. But then the 1948 Arab-Israeli War comes between them, fraternal enmity raises its head, and Ossyane's life is put on hold. Now, thirty years on, he awaits a meeting on a Paris bridge that will decide whether his tale is a tragedy or not... This is the story Ossyane pours out over three days to an unnamed narrator, who has recognised him from a photo in a history book.

With a sparse plot and lean prose, Ports of Call is a kind of fable, a fable of madness and family ties, of love and despair, of mixed and uncertain identities. Maalouf is able to touch lightly on grand themes and big topics without being either superficial or artificial. The historical background, for example, is fascinating — the Armenian genocide, the French Resistance, the breakdown of order in Beirut — but it remains background, never taking over the story. Ports of Call is masterly short novel, captivatingly readable and hauntingly memorable.

October 2002

External links:
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Related reviews:
- Amin Maalouf - Balthasar's Odyssey
- more French literature
- more historical fiction
- books published by Harvill Press
%T Ports of Call
%A Maalouf, Amin
%M French
%F Manguel, Alberto
%I Harvill Press
%D 2001
%O paperback
%G ISBN 186046890X
%P 197pp