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  • Written by Alia Yunis
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  • Written by Alia Yunis
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A Novel

Written by Alia YunisAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Alia Yunis


List Price: $10.99


On Sale: July 14, 2009
Pages: 0 | ISBN: 978-0-307-45364-8
Published by : Broadway Books Crown/Archetype
The Night Counter Cover

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After 85 long years, Fatimah Abdullah is dying, and she knows when her time will come. In fact, it should come just nine days from tonight, the 992nd nightly visit of Scheherazade, the beautiful and immortal storyteller from the epic The Arabian Nights.

Just as Scheherazade spun magical stories for 1,001 nights to save her own life, Fatima has spent each night telling Scheherazade her life stories, all the while knowing that on the 1,001st night, her storytelling will end forever. But between tonight and night 1,001, Fatima has a few loose ends to tie up. She must find a wife for her openly gay grandson, teach Arabic (and birth control) to her 17-year-old great-granddaughter, make amends with her estranged husband, and decide which of her troublesome children should inherit her family's home in Lebanon--a house she herself has not seen in nearly 70 years. All this while under the surveillance of two bumbling FBI agents eager to uncover Al Qaeda in Los Angeles.

But Fatima’s children are wrapped up in their own chaotic lives and disinterested in their mother or their inheritances. As Fatima weaves the stories of her husband, children, and grandchildren, we meet a visionless psychic, a conflicted U.S. soldier, a gynecologist who has a daughter with a love of shoplifting and a tendency to get unexpectedly pregnant, a Harvard-educated alcoholic cab driver edging towards his fifth marriage, a lovelorn matchmaker, and a Texas homecoming queen. Taken in parts, Fatima’s relations are capricious and steadfast, affectionate and smothering, connected yet terribly alone. Taken all together, they present a striking and surprising tapestry of modern Arab American life.

Shifting between the U.S. and Lebanon over the last hundred years, Alia Yunis crafts a bewitching novel imbued with great humanity, imagination, and a touch of magic realism. Be prepared to be utterly charmed.

From the Hardcover edition.
Alia Yunis|Author Q&A

About Alia Yunis

Alia Yunis - The Night Counter

Photo © Gabe Medway

Raised in Chicago, ALIA YUNIS has worked as a journalist and filmmaker in Los Angeles and the Middle East. Currently a professor of communications at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, Yunis is a PEN Emerging Voices fellow. This is her first novel.

Author Q&A

1. In The Night Counter, the description of the sights and smells of Lebanon are so evocative, the reader feels transported to the Middle East. What sounds, tastes, smells, etc. make you feel transported to that region?
For every season of the year and for every season of my life, thereare smells and sounds and pictures I associate with the Middle East. But there is always the smell of jasmine, the calming, time-settingsound of the call to prayer, and the sad sight of overflowing garbage bins. Within the region, your senses let you know that now you’re in Jordan, now you’re in Egypt, now you’re in the Persian Gulf. Lebanon, whose beauty is literally Biblical, is blessed with spectacular mountains and seascapes, like a petite, delicate, somewhat fragile California. It is where I fell in love with the sea, and ever since, I have not been comfortable living far from the sound of waves.

2. At heart, this is a novel about the meaning of family. How did your family shape the story and the writing process? How do they feel about the book?
As a result of the “troubles” in Lebanon and Palestine, my extended family lives around the world, and I have first cousins I have never even met. So in many cases our commonality is limited aside from a shared love and passion for those places. Some are more liberal than me, others more conservative, depending on the topic being discussed. I think some of them will find certain things in the book offensive or not tasteful, while others will relate to those very things. In fact, I imagine most would have both reactions, depending on what part of the book I was referring to. For example, Amir’s homosexuality would make some of my relatives cringe, or in some cases even stop reading, whereas my parents would just shrug and say, “Oh, yet another gay man in her life.” On the other hand, my parents would be so offended by the “foul language” Bassam uses and probably wouldn’t read that part.

3. How much of the novel is based on personal experience?
I don’t think anything we write, no matter how researched and factbased, whether fiction or nonfiction, takes its shape without going through the prism of our personal experiences. This is a work of fiction, and I can’t honestly point to any character and say “that’s my best friend” or “that’s my grandmother.” But I know the people in my book very well just the way they came out of my head, and they wouldn’t come out my head if they weren’t a conglomeration (subconscious and/or conscious) of my reality.

4. The oral storytelling tradition is strong in Lebanon, and the power of myth, fable, and story are evident in the shape of the novel. Did you think about these cultural touchstones as you were writing? If so, which ones?
My mother is a voracious reader—self-help, religion, politics—but she considers reading fiction a waste of time and takes no joy in the unraveling and revelation of characters and their worlds, which makes fiction so great to me. This is highly ironic as I recently realized after meeting a distant cousin for the first time that my mother is the biggest storyteller in my life. That cousin knew almost nothing about me. However, I knew so many stories about him. When my mother came to the United States in her twenties, she had no relatives in North America, and like Fatima, she longed for them. And I think to make up for that longing, she would tell me stories about them, long stories that went off in scores of tangents and involved people who over the years I came to know quite well although I hadn’t yet met them. Often the stories were stories her mother had told her about her parents. She was my first Scheherazade, but I have known many in the Middle East, as there has been so much loss and change there in recent generations, and with little recorded history, oral stories are what sustain the memories.

5. What aspect/character/moment in your book do you think book groups and other readers will talk about the most?
This is hard for me to say. At this point, I’m too close to everyone in the book to pick a favorite character or event. I’d be more curious in people telling me what aspects and moments they found interesting.

From the Hardcover edition.



"Wonderfully imaginative…poignant, hilarious…The branches of this family tree support four generations of achievement, assimilation, disappointment, and dysfunction…Their stories form an affectionate, amusing, intensely human portrait of one family."
Boston Globe

"The Abdullahs are anything but a Norman Rockwell painting, but in their own way, they are a very typical American family. They may have their differences but they also have their stories. And, as Scheherazade points out, in the end, that's what holds a family (much like a nation) together."
Christian Science Monitor

"THE NIGHT COUNTER, Alia Yunis' first novel, mixes equal parts of magical realism, social commentary, family drama and lighthearted humor to create a delicious and intriguing indulgence worth savoring."
Minneapolis Star Tribune

"Yunis, a Chicago-born professor living in Abu Dhabi, weaves a colorful tapestry…rich in character and spirit."
Entertainment Weekly

"Little pigs and lost siblings make for decent bedtime story fodder. But the life and times of Fatima Abdullah, the madcap matriarch of Alia Yunis's charming debut, THE NIGHT COUNTER, is even better."
–Daily Candy

"In this captivating debut, Yunis takes readers on a magic carpet ride….[A] sometimes serious, sometimes funny, but always touching tale of a Middle Eastern family putting down deep roots on U.S. soil."
Publishers Weekly

"Yunis' book club-ready debut uses The Arabian Nights as a departure point for an immigrant-assimilation story....Emotionally rewarding reading that builds to a poignant and thoroughly satisfying climax."
Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"Yunis' debut is a magical, whimsical read with plenty of humor and heart."

"A vibrant, moving story that blurs the boundaries of dream and reality, past and present, innocence and wisdom."
–Laila Lalami, author of Secret Son

"An enchanting debut that winks and glitters like the bangles that line Scheherazade's arms. THE NIGHT COUNTER is funny, sly, charming, delicious, madcap -- and a gorgeous celebration of the way stories weave and shape our lives."
–Carolyn Turgeon, author of Godmother

"A gracefully-written multi-generational tale--warm, wise, and often funny--that reveals the inevitable illusions that push families apart, and hold them together."
–Will North, author of Water, Stone, Heart and The Long Walk Home

From the Hardcover edition.

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