2 out of 4 stars
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Divine Comedy by Sabri Bebawi gives us a look at the life of the author, Sabri Bebawi. Or perhaps it gives us a look at the real life of Alexandre Akpors, as the book often includes lines like "I, Alexandre Akpors...". Perhaps Alexandre Akpors is a pseudonym for the author, as the book states that "some names have been changed...the people, however, are real," or perhaps everything is entirely made up and none of the book is to be believed. This walking of the thin line between fiction and nonfiction is central to Divine Comedy, a book about the trials and tribulations of Alexandre Akpors, whoever that may be. Told in the first person and presumably as an autobiography, Alexandre discusses the myriad of health issues he faces and the slew of women he had relationships with over a 25 year period through recent times.
Alexandre's story begins in either 1991 or 1992 when he had extraordinary chest pain, jaw pain and general discomfort. He was taken to the hospital and then sent to the University of California, Irvine for heart surgery. Life isn't done, though; he's soon diagnosed with cancer, and following this terrible chain of events he discovers his wife had sex with her boss. She claims she was raped, so he calls the police who eventually reveal to him that she's been living with him for an unknown amount of time and she ends up asking for a divorce. Thus begins the cycle of pain that Alexandre faces for the next 25 years, one he refers to as a chess match against nature itself that he refuses to lose.
The loop of Alexandre's life typically follows these steps, although they aren't always in this order:
- Alexandre brings up the name of a woman and how he knew or met her.
- This new love interest's physical attributes are then described.
- The good times Alexandre had with her are described, and maybe this time the divine comedy of life won't interfere and he can live a happy life with her.
- The various ways Alexandre's growing list of medical issues affect his current love interest are listed.
- For whatever reason, the two of them are forced to separate. The divine comedy of life has once again stepped in, but Alexandre won't ever give up on life or happiness and merely laughs it off.
Mixed in with this flow the author frequently mentions how the story may appear to be fiction, but it was indeed his life and it's up to the reader to decide. At one point he even says "I sometimes do not know what is fiction and what is nonfiction. That is the main reason this book is being written as a work of fiction." This is the other primary theme of the book, that whether the book is fictional or not doesn't matter, and how do we know that life itself isn't fiction? While I'm more than happy to read a book that weaves an intriguing mystery of what's real and what isn't, simply being told "it doesn't matter if this is real or not, it's up to you" just isn't compelling.
Perhaps the hardest pill for many folks to swallow concerning Divine Comedy comes in the form of Alexandre's abrasive opinions. America, Donald Trump (America's current president) and religion are discussed negatively whenever the chance arises. While there are times people will agree with him on one or all of these topics, it seems the purpose of mentioning them at all is merely to bash them. Instead, it's merely stated that Donald Trump is a fascist and that Alexandre hates "religious Muslims". The worst example is with one of Alexandre's love interests. He was aware she was a "religious Muslim" when they got together, and he mentions that they were together for two years, but when it comes time to go their separate ways he writes, "Actually I remember the moment we said goodbye; it was when she said that Quran was the words of a god [sic] and is real. That, I do not accept, so I asked her to leave at once. Tolerance is one thing; stupidity is another." Again, these are things that some may agree with and others may not be offended by, but if any of these statements offends you it's best to leave the book alone.
All in all, this part-philosophy, part-romance, part-medical journey details 25 years of Alexandre's life. This includes 45 surgeries, over 180 medical procedures, numerous marriages and various additional relationships across the world. While I wasn't a fan of the book as a whole, it wasn't terrible, and for a person to come through all of the pain in this book with a smile on his face and a "bring it on" mentality is immensely inspiring. This mentality could be the focus of a motivational book of its own! It's also perfectly edited, and while the format was repetitive I never felt bored. My official rating is 2 out of 4 stars.
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