Karen Karbo
May 20, 2008 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Osama al-Kharrat, an L.A. software engineer, returns to his native Beirut to join the family vigil at his father’s deathbed. From this staid occasion blooms a riot of stories concerning the rise of the eccentric al-Kharrat family. Osama’s waggish grandfather was a hakawati, or storyteller, and his classic tales of princes, genies, and wise-cracking seductresses are worthy of Scheherezade. Rabih Alameddine has a deft, winsome touch, and only a curmudgeon would point out that he?s gilded the lily: The novel?s digressions, while charming, dilute the power of the al-Kharrats’ tragicomic struggle to thrive in their once beautiful, now ruined city. B

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