3 out of 4 stars
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Not only does Lebanon face many difficulties today, including the explosion in Beirut in August 2020, but it's also a country with a troubled though fascinating history. This is fully reflected in The Elephant Tooth of '95: A Story of Family, Romance, and New Beginnings by Rana Baydoun, which is mostly set in Beirut.
The novel essentially reads like a memoir as we follow the young protagonist Noor Beyrouti, a food science graduate, as she gets her first job as a company sales representative. To start with, she finds it difficult to make sales. Will she learn the knack from her coworker Toni, a handsome business graduate five years her senior? When Noor and Toni start dating, her sister Riwa is horrified because he has not asked her parents' permission. Will Toni prove to be "The One" despite this breach of gentlemanly conduct?
The accounts of relationships and marriages provided fascinating insights into Lebanese culture and customs. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about these from this book. There are many allusions to the country's complex and troubled history. There is a poignant moment when Noor describes a fig tree that was the only one left standing after the Syrian army requisitioned her grandparents' house during the Israeli invasion. All the other trees had been cut down for fuel. These historical details were sometimes sad, but many of Noor's anecdotes were funny.
Often, the two moods combined, for example, in the following passage: "Mom was drinking her Turkish coffee and smoking two cigarettes simultaneously. Uh oh, last time I saw her smoking two cigarettes in parallel was when we were obliged to leave our apartment during one of the civil war battles." (The Elephant Tooth of '95: A Story of Family, Romance, and New Beginnings by Rana Baydoun, p. 83.) Despite the drama, this turned out to be a light-hearted moment because the issue is a do-it-yourself project of Noor's father's. The mother was a wonderfully quirky character; this scene and others featuring her were among my favourites.
In line with the often humorous events, the style was light and straightforward. The author included "mood music" for each chapter in the form of a song. It might be good to add a Spotify playlist if the author doesn't plan to do so already. In general, I'd recommend a round of professional editing as I found many errors, mostly in the area of punctuation.
The errors were not overly distracting, but I also believe the ending could be improved. It seemed rushed; I would have liked more details. As these shortcomings compromised the book somewhat, my rating is three out of four stars. I can recommend it to fans of memoirs as well as to those who like realistic stories rich in historical and cultural detail. If you don't favour memoirs because of their tendency to meander, I can tell you that the anecdotes in this story are so intriguing and funny that you might appreciate this read anyway. There's a fun fact behind the title, for example. Times may sometimes be tough, but there are always new beginnings to be found.
The Elephant Tooth of '95
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