Yalo, written by Elias Khoury and published by Archipelago Books, takes place in war-torn Beirut of the 1980’s where the main character (Yalo) is accused of rape and is imprisoned and tortured. Forced to write his confession, he starts to sort through his twisted memories of childhood, life as a soldier, and the crimes he did or did not commit.
His confusing and painful life distorts his reality, and seeing through his eyes, the reader must sort out truth from delusion. I found myself initially disliking Yalo, then beginning to sympathize with him. Highly psychological, the story of Yalo explores the making of a social deviant and the price of growing up surrounded by war and violence. I’ll have to admit Yalo was a difficult read for me – not because of the writing style, which is superior in its execution of the craft, but because of the dark and disturbing subject matter. It wasn’t written to make you comfortable, and there is no sugar coating here. If you want to delve into the psychological effects of war, and if you wonder what goes through the mind of a tormented soul whose perception of reality has been greatly altered, you will find much worth and fascination in Yalo.