"Learning English" by Rachid Al-Daif

Rachid Al-Daif - A mennonite Christian author from Lebanon - has come up with something pretty interesting here. What follows the set up is not what the reader expects. The story begins with the protagonist - also named Rachid - learning of his father’s murder - a blood revenge - two days after the fact while sitting in a cafe reading the newspaper. Stunned by this turn of events, he rushes home and seeks to find the answers as to why no one in his family bothered to contact him. 
 
Rachid lives in Beirut - a “contemporary” man, complete with his cell phone, expensive computers, his good education and his knowledge of second languages. Only English is giving him trouble and everyone knows that learning English is what makes one the most up to date. He was born and raised in a small village about an hour from the city - the village of Zgharta - known for its tough guys and old world ways. He likes to see himself as far removed from the old world, having firmly established himself in the new. So while he tries to discover the answer to why he was not informed of his father’s murder, he begins to think back over the course of his own life and the life of his parents. This is the bulk of the novel. We learn that his mother and father didn’t have the most pleasant marriage and his memories drift back to a time when things weren’t handled in such a modern way. Blood feuds and patriarchy were the norm and it made life hell for his mother, who he suspects had been in love with another man, despite being married. 
 
Rachid learns that the past still has a hold on him, despite how hard he tries to plant his feet into the modern world and he wrestles with his thoughts and emotions, trying to make sense of who he is, where he comes from and what it all means. 
 
The novel is more a rumination on the clash between traditional Arabic culture in Lebanon and the modern world in which he has grown accustomed to and there isn’t any “revenge” aspect to the novel per se - though the ending is left open enough to make the reader wonder whether or not he will retreat back to the old world or remain firmly in the new. 
Source: http://www.juliangallo66.blogspot.com