Modern-day Beirut is seen through the eyes of a failed writer, the eponymous Mister N. He has left his comfortable apartment and checked himself into a hotel—he thinks. Certainly, they take good care of him there. Meanwhile, on the streets below, a grim pageant: there is desperate poverty, the ever-present threat of violence, and masses of Syrian refugees planning to reach Europe via a dangerous sea passage.
How is anyone supposed to write deathless prose in such circumstances? Let alone an old man like Mister N., whose life and memories have become scattered, whose family regards him as an embarrassment, and whose next-door neighbours torment him with their noise, dinner invitations, and inconvenient suicides. Comical and tragic by turns, his misadventures climax in the arrival in what Mister N. had supposed to be his “real life” of a character from one of his early novels—a vicious militiaman and torturer. Now, does the old writer need to arm himself . . . or just seek psychiatric help?
“A singular thriller of identity that keeps the reader in suspense until the final shattering twist.”—Eglal Errera, Le Monde des livres
“With this novel, Lebanese author Najwa Barakat leads us into a psychological puzzle . . . part Shutter Island, part Jorge Luis Borges.” —Marjorie Bertin, Le Courrier de L'atlas
“It’s as though Najwa Barakat wanted to embody, in the person of her lunatic hero, all the chaos, the surfeit of suffering being experienced by her homeland and by her fellow citizens. And she does so with remarkable ingenuity.” —Hala Kodmani, Libération
“The human condition is a central focus for Barakat. Through her novels, she strives to build a new person, upholding his dignity and his right to express himself and to live in peace. Barakat searches for the causes of the pain and violence that is exercised upon man, and in doing so, she celebrates the lives of the misfortunate and those defeated by our inexorable reality.” —Ashraf Al-Hisani, Al-Araby
“For her protagonist, Najwa Barakat has chosen a psychologically disturbed man, opening for herself and the reader space in which to experience solitude, cruelty and anxiety, and to contemplate the power of language to generate pleasure nevertheless.” —Ahmad Shawqi Ali, Al-Modon
“Barakat continues to use the poetic, visionary language for which she is known, even as she adapts this language remarkably to capture her complicated subject . . . It is difficult—even for those well-practiced in the art of reviewing novels—to capture the beauty of her writing.” —Al-Muthana Al-Shaykh Atiya, Al-Quds