Summary: After a physical altercation with a high school classmate in Montreal, Karim examines what triggered him, going back to his life in war-torn Lebanon and his journey to get out of the country with his love interest’s little sister and brother. Karim hates living in Montreal, but as he sorts through his experiences, it turns out he is a young man in deep mourning for lost possibilities, lost people and a lost country. The offer of friendship from the classmate he defended brings him around, but Karim will always be affected by what has happened to him.
Number of Pages: 142
Age Range: 14-16
Review: The Road to Chlia by Michele Marineau is a thought-provoking story with a bumpy narration style. Switching from secondary character to protagonist to third person was confusing and frustrating because I found that I wasn’t interested in what the secondary character had to say. The parts that were written by Karim or about his direct experiences were definitely the most compelling and engaging aspect of the book.
That said, I see what Marineau was trying to accomplish. She takes complicated topics of loss, war, change, sorrow, grief and purpose and opens them up by being honest about people’s opinions and perspectives. It’s not pretty, but it is gritty and real and hopefully leaves its reader more enlightened and empathetic than when they started.
What struck me most about Karim’s story was the shock he goes through when he comes to Montreal from Lebanon. At first it seems like it’s simply culture shock, Western values being quite liberal in comparison to his home country. But it turns out to be more than that. Karim has just stepped out of a high-stress, life or death situation where he was forced to grow up overnight. He’s grieving, and still adjusting to normal life again when his parents send him to the local high school. The disparity between his life experiences and those of most of his fellow classmates is huge, yet Karim is forced to deal with their inane comments and uninformed attitudes. In retrospect, it is easy to see why he attacked Dave, not just because he was protecting My-Lan, but also because he was triggered in so many ways.
My favourite part is a quote from Karim’s reflections, and it’s the last quote in the Memorable Quotes section. I think The Road to Chlifa could have been organized better, but the heart of the story is incredibly powerful and I am glad I read it.
“When all’s said and done, I prefer insipid songs and morons for whom life is reduced to the slogan some of them wear on their t-shirts: ‘ Don’t worry. Be happy.” After all, what are wars, death, bombs, orphans, fear, remorse and tears? Real tragedy is not having enough styling gel or lipstick, or forgetting to turn on the VCR to tape the hockey game or the Thursday night soap.” – Karim from The Road to Chlifa by Michèle Marineau, page 22
“Glancing up, I saw Karim, on his feet, looking totally shattered. There was nothing left of cold indifference in him. In his eyes were rage, horror, fear, but mostly a terrible sadness. That’s when I understood the newcomer wasn’t haughty or disdainful like some said. He was simply in despair.” – from The Road to Chlifa by Michèle Marineau, page 24
“‘There’s no simple answer,’ he finally replies in a serious tone. ‘If there were, everything would have been settled quickly, and we wouldn’t be mired in this endless war. But one thing’s certain – the paradise that almost everyone waxes nostalgic over was only an illusion reserved for the rich, the cultivated Beirut elite, whether Christian or Muslim. Under the surface of their illusion, problems abounded that eventually had to erupt. There wasn’t just tension between Christians and Muslims. There was tension between rich and poor, the right and the left, people from the cities and people from country. . . . There was friction pretty well everywhere on all sides. And with the eruption of first events, everything fell apart. However, it wasn’t totally unforeseeable.'” – Milad from The Road to Chlifa by Michèle Marineau, pages 74-75
“In the afternoon, the bombing starts up again in the distance, but they hardly notice. Over there are bombs; here are trees, rocks, birds and butterflies. The two worlds have nothing in common. Maybe this is how one forgets atrocities. By distancing oneself. By acting as if they don’t exist.” – from The Road to Chlifa by Michèle Marineau, page 92
“‘What about these ruins and all the other ruins in the world? Weren’t these deaths, blood, screams? In Troy, in Rome, in . . . in . . . I don’t know, Babylon or Sparta or Baalbek? Weren’t there wars, battles, atrocities? But now all we see is the peaceful, romantic side. Don’t you find that revolting, all those forgotten dead?’
Karim doesn’t say anything. There’s nothing to say. A lifetime wouldn’t be enough to try to understand.” – Maha from The Road to Chlifa by Michèle Marineau, page 96
“I still don’t know why we’re alive. Maybe I’ll never know. But it seems to me we don’t have the right to let ourselves die. If only out of respect for all those who die but wanted to live. For now, that’s reason enough for me. I choose to live because Maha and Nada are dead. And their parents, their Aunt Lelia and all the others I don’t know. I choose to live so their deaths haven’t been in vain, so they won’t be forgotten. I choose to live to tell their lives to Jad, who’s just taken his first steps, and there’s nothing more incredible than a baby’s first steps. Oh, Maha, Maha, you didn’t even see Jad take his first step!” – Karim from The Road to Chlifa by Michèle Marineau, page 137
The Road to Chlifa by Michèle Marineau is published by Northern Lights for Young Readers (1992, translated into English by Susan Ouriou in 1995).
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