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Zahi Haddad’s talent originated at twelve years old when his first article was published in a local newspaper. Few years later, in high school, his hopes were dashed when the French teacher announced that he lacked the classical writing skills. Discouraged, it is until attending college that he regains the confidence and rediscovers the pleasure of composing. After working as a reporter for an established daily and in public relations, a sabbatical year spent in his birth place Lebanon resulted in the publication of his first novel Au Bonheur de Yaya “The Happiness of Yaya” drafted spontaneously and with great fluidity.
The autobiographical novel is Haddad’s urge to understand his Oriental origins and to blend them with his Western culture. The stories of the pioneers who lived in a large open land from Lebanon to Kuwait, through Syria, Palestine and Egypt while shaping these countries particularly inspired him. These ancestors are the ones that have build the Middle Eastern societies, values and culture. The novel meanders through constantly changing environment and cities. It contemplates the various facets of these ancestors’ lives with a very sober tone. It imagines each stage of their evolution while observing the imprint they left behind. Infiltrating their stories… whether the life of several generations back or, more recently, the life of the immediate grand parents is a subliminal experience.
Haddad is an energetic and amiable writer who wanders through his imagination, he also gets inspiration from his actual peregrinations and through his research about the countries he has not yet visited. Sometimes it is his love for history that inspires him. With unyielding patience, he unravels delightful testimonials. His fascination for the people who had lived through periods he wants to illustrate incites him to listen to their thoughts and share their emotions. As the taboos and unspoken legacy of the past remain very strong and constrained, some of his inhibited interlocutors remain reluctant, refusing to re-examine their lives past decades. He gains their confidence with modesty, discretion and respect to narrate their stories despite the persisting Lebanon’s war traumatic sequels. He then poetically depicts the nuances of what we do not always like to say or even think.
The novelist literary references are very eclectic, ranging from comics to historical narratives through philosophical essays. “There is always something to discover and learn no matter what the writing shape, style or genre is.” He continues saying that “one must dare and follow his own dreams.” For over ten years, he dreamt about Au Bonheur de Yaya “The Happiness of Yaya.” Knowing fully well that it may be a great risk to undertake. The key was to let go, keep what is important close to one’s heart, to somehow trust and confide into the scrolling pages, the rest followed. The rewards have been many, his readers and admirers eloquently praise him and a growing number of them are inspired to follow in his sabbatical footsteps.
The novel title came naturally before any of the narrative. It is an homage and an indelible portrait of a woman who has deeply influenced him. It is none other that his beloved mother. It symbolizes her strength, courage and especially the happiness in and of each moment. The book original and intriguing cover designed by the editor Tamyras calls for many interpretations about traditions, history while evoking our collective memory!
Literary, psychological and logistical challenges in bringing a first novel to life are many starting with the renunciation to a regular job and the security it provides. Not to mention the skepticism of those who did not believe in it. Fortunately, Haddad found incredible support, starting with his cousin, then from his would be wife who listened and inspired him a bit more every day.
In Au Bonheur de Yaya “The Happiness of Yaya” the novelist moves with great agility across time and space, and across genre of writing – his narrative is peppered with Yaya’s favorite recipes. But, he never loses track of his story’s central thread: his quest to lift the
shadow of legend from his family’s past, this need to belong that is absurdly changeable, dependent on history, politics, geography and economics. It is a beautifully lyrical, clear, cogent narrative that grips from beginning to end, a must read.
Published by Tamyras and available in French at selected bookstores and on-line