Title: The Night Counter
Author: Alia Yunis
Release Date: July 13, 2010
Genre: Cultural Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5
Fatima Abdullah is eighty-five years old, and she knows she doesn’t have much time left. Scheherazade, the queen of 1001 Nights fame, has been telling Fatima her stories, but now it’s Fatima’s turn. Fatima tells Scheherazade about each of her children and grandchildren and Scheherazade takes it upon herself to visit them on her magic carpet and spy just a little on each of their lives.
The Night Counter is the story of one large Muslim-American family. Fatima lives with her grandson Amir in California, and it’s her last wish to see Amir married to a nice girl. The only trouble with that is Amir is gay, and though he’s tried to tell his grandmother this many times, she simply doesn’t believe him. It’s details like this that will amuse and delight readers in this novel. Yunis takes Lebanese culture and puts it on display for the reader through Fatima; readers will enjoy seeing how much (or how little) her children and grandchildren have strayed from her example.
The main plot device in The Night Counter is Scheherazade herself, a storyteller who has since become an avid collector of stories. It’s something that readers will either love or hate; happily, I thought the inclusion of the fictional character to be a fun touch. It takes the novel into the fantastical and adds an overarching plot thread for the reader to follow as they are taken through these disparate stories from distantly related people around the country.
However, The Night Counter’s unique structure also presents some challenges. If you aren’t interested in people’s stories, this may not be the book for you. Scheherazade jumps from one of Fatima’s offspring to another and relates the story of each; though they are all connected, it feels disjointed at times, and readers may wonder where the narrative is leading. If you’re a fan of interconnected stories, however, you will likely appreciate what Yunis has done with her novel.
Overall, The Night Counter is a thoughtful, emotional book about the importance of family. Though Fatima believes her legacy is in her home in Lebanon, through Scheherazade, she begins to realize that her large family is the most important thing she will leave behind. These stories are well-written and engaging, and Yunis gives each of these disparate characters their own unique voice. Fans of cultural fiction should definitely consider picking this book up.