Rabih Alameddine is one amazing writer. Having thoroughly enjoyed his novel I, The Divine, I immediately sought out his other works. His debut novel, Koolaids, is the one I chose to read next. And what a debut. Like I, The Divine, Koolaids is a highly experimental novel in the “postmodern fiction” vein, although I think it would be unfair to slap a label on this highly unique work. Principally about a successful artist - Mohammad - dying of AIDS, the novel’s structure is such that there are many other characters within, mainly Mohammad’s family, lovers and circle of friends. Each of these characters tell their stories from their own point of view via vignettes, memories, emails, diary entries, dreams, news clippings, dialogue and Dada-esque mini plays; and although hardly any of these passages are in chronological order (save for one), and interspersed with asides and change of point of view, the reader is easily able to follow along, constructing the harrowing story being told within.
The story itself is about the ravages of AIDS has on so many individual’s lives and how it effects not only those who suffer from it but those surrounding them. There is also a story line about the Lebanese Civil War via the experiences and memories of the various characters within. Death is the main subject here - either by disease or by war. There are many religious passages as well, reflecting the multi-religious society Lebanon had been throughout history and how each of these faiths played an equal hand in slaughter and death; the message being the absolute meaninglessness of life, despite the desperate attempts of each of these characters to find meaning - either through said religions - or art and creativity. Nevertheless, as the novel’s refrain repeats over and over again via the dying thoughts of Mohammad, “Death comes in many shapes and sizes, but it always comes. No one escapes the little tag on the big toe."
Although there are some nightmarish scenarios depicted in this novel it is not without humor or its lighthearted moments that definitely take the edge off the existential drama. There are times you will laugh out loud or at the very least, smile. How one could considering the deadly serious subject matter is only a testament to Alameddine’s talent as a writer. There is a wit about his writing that one can’t help but be pulled in by it. Many of the vignettes, to me, remind me a lot of the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, where just a few lines pack a punch most writers can only achieve in pages. It is an amazing achievement to compose such a fragmented, non-linear narrative and yet have it all come together as well as this does. This is a narrative that will engage you, make you think very hard about the subject matter within. I can’t recommend this novel - or this author - highly enough. I, for one, cannot wait to read the rest of his output. By far one of the more important and imaginative writers out there today. Read this.