In the Heart of the Heart of Another Country

By Lynne Rogers

In the Heart of the Heart of Another Country
By Etel Adnan
City Lights Publishers, 2005

A life-long activist and traveler, Etel Adnan’s writing, poetry, and artwork continue to punctuate the need for peace. In her latest work, “In the Heart of the Heart of Another Country,” Adnan, who was born in Lebanon and has lived in Paris and California, freely crosses the boundaries of genre in her autobiographical narrative. In her introduction, acknowledging the influence of William Gass’s “In the Heart of the Heart of Another Country,” Adnan situates her work within a cosmopolitan context as she connects the Arab Revolt of 1916 with the wars in Lebanon and Iraq.  The episodic narrative mirrors Adnan’s reaction to witnessing war from both a close proximity and the distance of the newspaper; her vulnerable sense of being “a small fish capable of witnessing only miniscule – though enlarged – troubled waters.”  The seven sections form a non-linear memoir that blend the past and the present, “each distorting the other, opening into tensions of repetition.” 

The construction of repeated titled paragraphs evokes rather than replicates an intellectual coming-of-age. The chapter “At Both Ends” combines Adnan’s reading of T.E. Lawrence’s “The Seven Pillars” with her imagination of Lawrence’s emotional consciousness and her deep sadness over his treachery. Her descriptions of Lawrence create a personal and political intimacy: “There is an erotic quality to his weariness…. He knows he will not last long because all his schemes are part of a larger concept of betrayal.”  The final chapter, “To Be in a Time of War,” closes with a jarring juxtaposition of the mundane yet privileged details of American life occasionally pierced by the consciousness of war and the suffering of Iraqis. In a lament of infinitives “to prevent the trajectory of inner defeat from reaching the center,” Adnan’s literary experiment momentarily disrupts the dishonest discourse of war with her honest efforts against depression and human indifference.

This review appeared in Al Jadid, Vol. 12, nos. 56/57 (Summer/Fall 2006)

Copyright (c) 2006 by Al Jadid