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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Kamal Jann

Dominique Eddé

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To purchase Kamal Jann

Title: Kamal Jann
Author: Dominique Eddé
Genre: Novel
Written: 2012 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 429 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Kamal Jann - US
Kamal Jann - UK
Kamal Jann - Canada
Kamal Jann - Canada (French)
Kamal Jann - India
Kamal Jann - France
  • French title: Kamal Jann
  • Translated by Ros Schwartz

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Our Assessment:

B- : international and familial intrigue with a lot of noise but ultimately too basic

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Le Monde . 19/1/2012 Florent Georgesco
TLS . 10/10/2014 Maureen O'Rourke
World Lit. Today . 3-4/2015 M.D.Allen

  From the Reviews:
  • "Dominique Eddé conduit son lecteur d'une main de fer. Retournements, rapidité, tension constamment attisée: elle donne à Kamal Jann toutes les séductions d'un roman d'espionnage, mais sans jamais vouloir s'y arrêter, laissant la spirale de son intrigue s'enfoncer dans des zones obscures, qui outrepassent le genre." - Florent Georgesco, Le Monde

  • "Kamal Jann reflects the general attitude of the West, safely remote from the sufferings inflicted on the Arab world, as well as the ever courteous cosmopolitan Arabs who put up with this, only gently trying to educate and influence." - Maureen O'Rourke, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Occasionally self-indulgent and marred by longueurs, Kamal Jann is yet a novel of considerable power." - M.D.Allen, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The title character of Kamal Jann is a very successful Syrian-born lawyer in New York -- "partner of the famous BAM (By All Means)law firm in New York". His parents were killed when he was in his teens, in the brutal crackdown on Hama, in Syria, in 1982 -- and the man he holds responsible is his uncle, Sayf Eddine Jann, now head of: "the most feared intelligence service in the Arab world", the Mukhabarat. For good measure, uncle Sayf Eddine had also started molesting young Kamal a few years before the death of the boy's parents -- and then took Kamal and his younger brother Murad in when they were orphaned. It is also Sayf Eddine that paid for Kamal's education and is thus partially responsible for his success.
       The long first section, of the novel's four, takes place on a single day, as things come to a head: Murad turned to fundamentalism and is now: "linked to a hard-line branch of the Muslim Brotherhood". He is in Paris, at the center of a terrorist plot, as the Syrian president ("T.Z." here) is expected there shortly. An American agent approaches Kamal, offering to help him save his brother, but the interwoven plots, and the forces behind them, are complex and it's a race against a variety of powerful groups. Sayf Eddine has his fingers in the mix, but others are also pursuing other agendas.
       At one point Kamal laments:

Our family has gone too far. Our story is coming to an end.
       And, indeed, the Janns -- especially the Jann-men -- do not fare well here, their various ambitions, and their games with very high stakes for the most part thwarted.
       Kamal Jann is a tremendously busy novel, and this works to best effect in the first section, one-hundred fifty pages covering a compact time-frame, introducing many of the characters, each near or pushed to an edge. The complicated Jann family dynamics make for a great deal of tension, as do the Syrian and Lebanese politics that color many of these events, with even Sayf Eddine unsure of himself:
For thirty years, Sayf Eddine had held and read the country like an open book. Today, the book was in tatters. Some pages were missing. Others were in the wrong order.
       The Jann family also includes Sayf Eddine's ancient mother-in-law, known as Sitt Soussou, who wields a great amount of power behind the scenes; a lost son of sorts also appears on the scene. And while the Machiavellian Sayf Eddine usually sticks to traditional methods of getting his way -- torture and murder included -- he also lets himself be influenced by the apparently clairvoyant 'La Bardolina'. Elsewhere, there are figures from the CIA, as well as a wealth American woman who takes a great interest in Kamal; the jet-setting novel flits between New York, Paris, Beirut, and Damascus (with a few other asides).
       As Murad looks to execute the plan he's been prepared for and Kamal races to try to save his brother, and as Sayf Eddine continues to try to keep his own ambitious plans going, the story bogs down in all its busy-ness, juggling too many characters and locales, without moving the plot forward enough (as Kamal Jann ultimately isn't -- first and foremost -- an international intrigue thriller). There's a great deal here in dialogue, but only so much of that can be 'dramatic'; at a certain point it all becomes rather wearing. So too much of what happens -- especially to the Jann-men -- is anticlimactic (especially considering the build-up).
       Kamal's white rage at his uncle seems plausible enough, and yet Eddé presents it too simplistically, never going far enough into the relationship beyond the fact that Sayf Eddine sexually abused young Kamal, had his parents killed, and paid for his American education (i.e. there are a few gaps here ...). Many of the characters serve only specific roles, including significant ones such as Murad -- with Eddé notably better with several of the women's roles than with her male figures. The occasional insights, too, can verge on the melodramatic -- as when Kamal flees to the bathroom at a restaurant to relieve himself, to be able to tell himself afterwards: "I didn't masturbate, I raped myself so as not rape" the boy he was with -- revealing that he's carrying a hell of a lot more heavy-duty baggage than readers likely would have guessed.
       In such a novel death is an easy way of tying up loose (and other) ends ("Death is always a solution", a character observes at the end, easily read, at that point, as the bad advice one might get in a novel-writing course ...), and Eddé kills off her fair share of characters but perhaps most disappointing is the fate she saves for Kamal, which feels like the laziest way out.
       Kamal Jann engages with both familial and governmental politics, but is hit and miss with both. There are bits of relationships and issues that are convincingly portrayed -- but most of them are simply not presented anywhere near satisfyingly in-depth enough. Murky Middle Eastern politics -- with CIA and Mossad cameos -- may be standard thriller-fare, but Eddé doesn't do anywhere near enough with them; a radically changed Syria in just the few years since the book was originally published in French doesn't help make it feel any more convincing. There's an air -- or fog -- of authenticity to much of the book (especially the local Lebanese color), but the story built on that, though talky, isn't near substantial enough.

- M.A.Orthofer, 16 June 2014

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Kamal Jann: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature
  • See Index of Arabic literature

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About the Author:

       French writing, Lebanese-born author Dominique Eddé was born in 1953.

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© 2014-2021 the complete review

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