Comments at Karim Chaibi’s Book Launching for
Soul of a Harpist
November 21sr, 2005
One evening a couple of weeks ago, I was sitting in my favorite café, the Next Apache on Panenska Ulica, when the owner, Ben Pascoe, introduced me to a tall, thin man with haunting eyes. That was how I met Karim Chaibi. He is a great conversationalist, and we talked for a long time. Ben Pascoe was in on it, and told me about Karim’s book. He showed it to me, and I said I would take one. Karim then told me that it was the first one he had sold. So, I became the first purchaser and reader of his new book, Soul of a Harpist.
The book is a collection of thirteen stories written by Karim, followed by an epilogue story, which he calls a ‘Refrain.’
The stories are unusual. Karim calls them ‘Magic Realism.’ They begin in a fairy-tale, wonder sort of way; with magical persons and events of all kinds in them; the kind of stories that you would like to begin reading to your children at, say, age nine or ten. This is the magic of Karim’s stories.
But the stories do not end in fairy-tale, happy ending ways. That is the ‘Realism’ of them. A king discovers that the location of the original Garden of Eden, for example, is within his kingdom. So, the King decides that he must eat of the tree of eternal life. But when he gets past the snake, seizes the apple, and takes his first bite, he chokes and cannot clear his throat. He finds himself facing the Angel of Death, who laughingly says: ‘Blessed is he who chokes to death on eternity.’
Each of his stories takes us to magical realms that are far from descriptive reality, but close to the reality of our minds. And each brings us back to a hard and unforgiving reality that scorns happy endings.
Few are the morals given to the stories. Karim is no Aesop teaching us useful maxims. Rather, he is the one who dreams—and warns us against dreams. The gods are only too happy to bring us back to earth with a thud.
Karim’s book is a major addition to European literature. The ‘magic realism’ he portrays is at once part of a long European tradition, as well as the expression of Karim’s upbringing in Tunisia, and his struggles reconciling faith in God with culture and life as it is. His pessimism fits perfectly in Central Europe, and the sense of magic with which promises us some escape always ends up in tragedy.
In one of his stories, the main character, a sculptor who is condemned to the loss of his feelings and his art because his statue comes alive, sighs: ‘The power of creativity offends the gods, yet failure in the eyes of men is humiliating.’ Whether Karim’s stories offend the gods, I do not know. But his creativity will not suffer failure in the eyes of men. I fear that their ‘Magic Realism’ will speak to the state of Modern Man’s soul, even if it results in world as ‘magically realistic’ as the one Karim portrays.
In reading Karim’s stories, we are experiencing the journey of his soul, a glance at the soul of our age, and a look into our own souls. This is an extraordinary accomplishment.
I urge all of you to read and talk about this book. It is an experience that you will not forget.
© Karim Chaibi 2005