Lebanese writer Hoda Barakat won the 2019 International Prize for Arabic Fiction with this book; as its title suggests, its characters have been displaced – and its structure underlines this even more.
Voices of the Lost (translated from Arabic by Marilyn Booth) begins with a series of anonymous letters, written to parents, siblings, lovers. These letters go into some of their writers’ deepest feelings and secrets, but they also float free of context to a certain extent. The letters never arrive with their recipients – each one is found, unsent, by the writer of the next.
Following the initial cycle of letters is a set of chapters that appear to be written from the viewpoints of the characters who would have received those previous letters. These chapters cast new light on what we’ve read before, but the fact that they seem to respond to letters that weren’t sent makes their sense of reality uncertain.
What I found in Voices of the Lost is a combination of powerful character portraits and a sense of dislocation that comes from the way the book is organised. It’s striking stuff to read.
Published by Oneworld.
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