The Tiller of Waters is a beautiful novel that is vulgarly illusive. Don’t take me wrong; I have no grudge against it–you’ll find the opposite at the end of this review. I use “vulgarly illusive” to denote the novel’s quality for being illusive/elusive and telling us so upfront. It opens with a list of epigraphs, two of which from Jorge Luis Borges and another from a pre-modern Chinese philosopher that sounds so much like Borges.
The novel presents a narration by Niqula, a Beiruti young man who finds himself in the middle of the Lebanese Civil war. His narration goes back and forth between present and past and, apparently, between reality and imagination. The reader cannot really tell for sure when he slips from reality into imagination. The “infrastructures” of the novel supports this elusive quality, such as, the absence of quotation marks for its dialog and the seemingly carefree use of grammar tense to narrate story (he often uses present tense to tell about the past).
Its exploration of the history of the Eastern Mediterranean region fused with the philosophy and history of fabrics and how together they suggest the social fabric of Lebanon are so enriching for the reader. The representation of a Kurdish girl (Kurdish being a minority in Lebanon that often get harsh treatment from or plain disregard by the society) is vivid and problematic. Its belletristic narration of the beauty and history of silk is mysteriously captivating, especially when it is concluded with the tremendous harm that the fabric brings.
It’s definitely not an easy read, but I’ve really enjoyed reading the book and will highly-likely enjoy my second reading, third and so on.