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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Mehlis Report

Rabee Jaber

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To purchase The Mehlis Report

Title: The Mehlis Report
Author: Rabee Jaber
Genre: Novel
Written: 2006 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 202 pages
Original in: Arabic
Availability: The Mehlis Report - US
The Mehlis Report - UK
The Mehlis Report - Canada
The Mehlis Report - India
  • Arabic title: تقرير مهليس
  • Translated by Kareem James Abu-Zeid

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Our Assessment:

B+ : fine, vivid portrait of Beirut, anno 2005

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The National . 27/4/2013 Frederick Deknatel

  From the Reviews:
  • "Beyond a keen eye for historical and even architectural details, Jaber creates in The Mehlis Report a city of voices, which together destabilise the story and produce competing narratives that, in less than 200 pages, intuitively explore life, death and loss in Lebanon." - Frederick Deknatel, The National

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 Mehlis Report is a novel of Beirut in 2005. On Valentine's Day 2005 former Lebanese Prime Minister and business tycoon Rafik Hariri was killed in a massive explosion; a UN investigation into the assassination was ordered, with German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis in charge of it. It is this much-anticipated 'Mehlis Report' -- that would finally be released in late-October 2005 -- that gives the novel its title.
       The central figure in The Mehlis Report is Saman Yarid. Forty years old, he directs the Yarid Architecture and Design Agency -- coming to the office now: "to avoid sitting alone in the vast rooms of the family home". (He certainly doesn't seem to come into the office to actually do any work, ambling through the entire novel as the ultimate man of leisure.) He had three sisters; two now live abroad, and one, Josephine, was kidnapped more than two decades ago, in 1983, with no trace of her ever found.
       Josephine also figures in the novel, however -- from and in the afterlife. She observes and comments on her brother's situation, but also eventually reveals her own: the conditions she finds herself in, as well as what happened to her in 1983. (Like one of their other sisters, she also repeatedly tries to call Saman -- though she doesn't get through.) While not the main thrust of the story, Josephine's scenes clearly are laying a sort of foundation; it's not surprising then that eventually Hariri is also revealed to be in this same other-world, for example.
       Most of the novel, however, focuses directly on Saman, following him around as he juggles his women, wonders what he's done with his life, contemplates leaving Beirut, and forgets to make an appointment for that physical he really thinks he should get ..... Saman clings to Beirut, even as most of those he knows -- colleagues, relatives, friends -- have or plan to abandon the city, and The Mehlis Report is in many ways an homage to the city. This is a novel full of incongruous sights -- a Beirut of constant transformation even as it is also a place of destruction -- and Jaber presents day-to-day life and the often striking normalcy, even under these abnormal conditions, particularly well. It is also a vivid -- arguably overly-vivid -- novel, with the smells not just wafting from the page but permeating everything.
       Saman wanders the city, cooks with his girlfriend, drinks. He doesn't seem to be going anywhere. Typically, he has a classic car in his garage, looking brand-new, even though it is decades old, and he is extremely careful the rare times he takes it our for a spin; usually he just leaves the motor running at home, to charge the battery. The past can be, in small parts, preserved and held onto, but Beirut's reality, and the constant uncertainty about everything, loom over absolutely everything
       The Mehlis report also hangs over the novel, as it is expected to be another turning point -- and likely:

The problem isn't what the report says. The problem is what happens to us after that.
       Jaber's juxtaposition of real-life Beirut and the afterlife of some its victims is reasonably effective even as the fairly idyllic other-world makes for a rather odd message (suggesting as it does that even after the horrors of Beirut there will be a next chapter, no matter how many pieces you got blown up into, and that next locale won't even be half-bad ...). The arc of the novel -- culminating 20 October, when the Mehlis report is finally released, but not culminating in the way the reader likely expected -- works well and is nicely done, with even Josephine's ghostly-presence-function paying off.
       The Mehlis Report is a fine novel of Beirut, 2005, capturing the atmosphere -- with both a life-must-go-on attitude, as well as the complete uncertainty that always hovers over everything -- and all the city's smells particularly well. It does plod along somewhat, much of the way, very much a snapshot of that present that can feel a bit flat because we get so little back-story to the characters. (Among the few that Jaber reveals anything about is the widowed Cecilia, whom Saman is now seeing -- but even here he presents little more than the deaths that have shaped her.) But Jaber writes well, and The Mehlis Report is a solid read throughout.

- M.A.Orthofer, 21 September 2013

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The Mehlis Report: Reviews: The Mehlis Report: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Arabic literature

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About the Author:

       Lebanese author Rabee Jaber (ربيع جابر) was born in 1972.

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© 2013-2021 the complete review

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