Scotiabank Giller prize-winner Linden MacIntyre is back with a timely and gripping novel in which a son tries to solve the mystery of his father's death--a man who tried but could not forget a troubled past in his native Lebanon.
Pierre Cormier had secrets. Though he married twice, became a high-flying lawyer and a father, he didn't let anyone really know him. And he was especially silent about what had happened to him in Lebanon, the country he fled during civil war to come to Canada as a refugee. When, in the midst of a corporate scandal, he went missing after his boat exploded, his teenaged son Cyril didn't know how to mourn him. But five years later, a single bone and a distinctive gold chain are recovered, and Pierre is at last declared dead. Which changes everything.
At the reading of the will, it turns out that instead of a funeral, Pierre wanted a "roast" at a bar no one knew he frequented--The Only Café in Toronto's east end. He'd even left a guest list that included one mysterious name: Ari. Cyril, now working as an intern for a major national newsroom and assisting on reporting a story on homegrown terrorism, tracks down Ari at the bar, and finds out that he is an Israeli who knew his father in Lebanon in the '80s. Who is Ari? What can he reveal about what happened to Pierre in Lebanon? Is Pierre really dead? Can Ari even be trusted? Soon Cyril's personal investigation is entangled in the larger news story, all of it twining into a fabric of lies and deception that stretches from contemporary Toronto back to the massacre at the Sabra and Shatila camps in Lebanon in September 1982.
The Only Café is both a moving mystery and an illuminating exploration of how the traumatic past, if left unexamined, shadows every moment of the present.
|Publisher:||Random House of Canada, Limited|
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.10(d)|
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He’d driven his new toy, a vintage Mustang, north to Bloor. He might have then turned west, toward home. But he’d turned east instead, crossed the Don Valley and entered what he’d always thought of as the city’s European microcosm, Danforth Avenue. He drove past the teeming patios, the Greek restaurants, Greek street signs, Greek statuary, Mediterranean enthusiasm. He drove slowly, absorbing all the images of pleasure. Too much pleasure. Too many thoughtless people.He could feel a headache starting.
He drove until he entered another world. No more patios and pleasure-seeking throngs, no more shish kebab and booze. The signs were now in Urdu, the shops proclaiming halal meat. He drove until he saw the mosque, the unmistakable minaret, the silver crescent, the emerald domes.
He parked the Mustang, locked it, stepped back, admired his car, felt his spirits lift but only for a moment. The car was a reminder of why he endured days like that day, a day of bad news, double-talk and spin. The car was a reward, like the boat he kept in Nova Scotia. Car and boat, vehicles for fantasy, for flight. But now he needed distance from his car, distance from his day. He needed to escape even his escapes.
He started walking. And then he spotted the little bar with the peculiar name in this unlikely neighbourhood. He went in, ordered a beer. He sat trying to imagine what awaited him in the days to come. The patio was just outside and beyond it he could see the domes that made him feel at home.
He’d spent maybe twenty minutes on the first beer, then he’d gone to the bar and fetched a second. Perhaps because he appeared to be out of place in his expensive suit and tie, a stranger came and gestured toward the empty seat across from him.
Pierre nodded toward the chair. The stranger sat.
“Have I seen you here before?”
The agitation of the day was undiminished and he didn’t answer right away. But there was something about the stranger’s accent. Agitation was replaced by curiosity. “I doubt it.”
The intruder said, “I’m Ari,” and held out a beefy hand. Pierre stared at it.
Perhaps it was the face. Or maybe it was something deeper, a voiceprint in the memory. Ormaybe it was just the similarity to another name that loomed large in memories Pierre had buried.
Ari started to rise. “Sorry. I don’t mean to interrupt.” Pierre quickly grasped the hand. “It’s okay . . . sit . . . Harry?”
“Ari. Short for Ariel.”
“Pierre Cormier. I’ve never been here before. A bit different.”
“Cormier? Yes. I find the atmosphere relaxing. Casual.”
“Ari. Interesting name. Ari what?”
“Roloff. An old Quebec name.”
“But you aren’t French.”
“True.” Ari shrugged, looked away briefly. “Nor are you,” he said. There was a trace of aggression in the look, the tone of voice.
Pierre could feel the agitation creeping back as he studied the face before him. It was broad and smooth, fleshy, friendly, open, the eyes interested but weary. What a bizarre coincidence. He felt a flutter in his stomach. Ariel. The same name. There was even a bodily resemblance. The man in front of him was short and overweight, borderline obese. The hair, the colour of ash, was thinning at the front but effectively combed over.
“You come here often?” he asked.
Ari smiled, shrugged. “Maybe more often than I should.”
“So how long have you been in this country?”
Ari laughed. “Where do you think I’m from?” The subtle thickness of his consonants.
“I know exactly where you’re from.”
The smile was cautious now. Ari nodded.
“You could say we were neighbours once,” Pierre said.
“Ah. Neighbours north? South? East?”
“North,” said Pierre.
“Yes. Pierre? Yimkin kenna as-hab. Perhaps we were even friends.”
“Perhaps. You speak like an Arab.”
“Maybe not so much. I’ve been here five years,” Ari said. “You?”
“Quite a bit longer.”
“You’re from Beirut,” Ari said.
“No. A bit south of there.”
Ari hesitated. “Damour?”
“You know Damour?”
Ari nodded. “I’ve been there.”
“I had family in Damour. But I was born in Saida.”
“Ah. Sidon. But you had family in Damour?”
“I’m going to order a drink. Would you like another beer? Or something better.”
“I’ll have what you’re having.”
Ari returned with two glasses. Scotch.
“And you? I’m going to guess Haifa.”
“Just a feeling. You’ve lived with Arabs.”
“Yes. But not Haifa. A kibbutz near Hebron. You never heard of it.”
“Probably not. I suppose you hear this a lot, but you bear a remarkable resemblance to someone famous.”
Ari laughed. “I don’t hear it anymore so much. Someone no longer visible. Someone slowly being forgotten, yes?”
“Forgotten here, maybe. But not so much in other places.”
“When did you say you came?” asked Ari.
“I didn’t say.”
“And you’ve been back?”
“I have nobody left there.”
“You said you have family in Damour?”
Pierre shook his head. “Past tense. You know the history.”
“The important parts.” Ari reached across the table, clasped Pierre’s hand again, held it gently for a moment. “Such a tragedy, Damour. And all that followed.”
Pierre stood abruptly, light-headed. “I think I have to leave now.” He took a quick mouthful of the Scotch. It was strong. “Thanks for the drink,” he said, setting the empty glass back down.
Ari nodded and looked away.
And that was how it started.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I received a free electronic copy of this novel from Netgalley, Linden MacIntyre, and Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for sharing your hard work with me. This is a very intense read, based on truths buried in rhetoric in a Middle East westerners cannot know nor understand. Linden MacIntyre comes very close to making it real for us. This is a book I would read again after a period of digestion, and would share with my loved ones. Again, thank you.