From Border Patrol: The Newsletter of the North American Branch of the International Association of Crime Writers. Summer/Fall 2008
Interrogation and torture prevails as a focus in Yalo by Elias Khoury translated from the Arabic by Peter Theroux. Yalo in handcuffs stands in the Jounieh police station facing an interrogator with no memory as to why he is there. Rae is the charge against him. A girl wearing a very short skirt is present to accuse. Yalo denies his involvement. The interrogator shouts “You confessed, you dog! You know what happens to liars!” There are other charges added––robbery, something about a flashlight and other misdeeds. After many interrogation sessions Yalo admits to everything. Then he is ordered to write his life story. His dilemma: “his story, which he did not know how to tell, his language, which he did not know how to write, and his memory, which he did not know how to provide with a voice.” There are also complications concerning his identity. Is he Lebanese or Syrian? He writes his story again and again. The interrogator compares Yalo’s testimonies of those whom he “attacked, raped, and robbed.” A rewrite is again required. Each time the story is rejected he endures tortures such as the time he stands naked from the waist down in a burlap sack in which there is an angry cat. Chilling! Khoury uses flashbacks illustrating Yalo’s family background, youthful exploits and sexual encounters for narrative structure. The novel’s impact is the lucid exposure of the destructive effects of mind manipulation.