• Name The Only Café
  • Writer Linden MacIntyre
  • Genre fiction
  • Publisher Random House Canada
  • Pages 432
  • Cost $32

Your past catches up to you. Then again you drag it and hit back.

Require Pierre Cormier (né Haddad) of The Only Café, the latest book by Linden MacIntyre, writer of Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning The Bishop’s Man, one of the functions. On reckoning decades before in his native 18, Pierre insistence could be what leads to his death in 2007. In 2012, the abortive mission of Pierre is taken up by son Cyril. MacIntyre weaves his way through both men’s lives . Provided that you tune out the persistent thrum of deus ex machina (a set of extraordinarily unlikely coincidences propels the narrative ahead), The Only Café will transfix you with its disquieting and cautionary narrative.

The narrative begins five years after the presumed death in an accidental explosion aboard his pleasure ship off Cape Breton of Pierre. Only now are insurers. In an addendum to his will, which is finally unsealed, Pierre uncharacteristically asks that he be exposed to a roast in the Only Café, presided over by “Ari.” Nobody near him has heard of the guy or the institution. This intrigues Cyril, who makes his way into Danforth Avenue and an unknown place to take the step of this place — “[a] café which was actually only a bar with coffee on the side” — meet Ari, an Israeli Canadian who is apparently a routine, and investigate.

MacIntyre turn consists not in getting Ari function as the respective quests of Pierre and linchpin of Cyril’s, but in his expertly and judicious timed of what the vaguely and enigmatic malefic barfly understands about his interlocutors. And because you are to the trades of Ari with Cyril and Pierre, you are always one step ahead of {}.

What’s there to learn about Pierre? That’s unsettling. As a result of segments set in wartime Lebanon, we learn that Pierre’s (Christian) family was murdered by Palestinian or Palestinian-aligned militiamen. Then he joined a militia some months after its ally Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, that, dedicated the massacre of Palestinian civilians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp.

Upon meeting with Ari in the in 2007, over two years Pierre believes he has seen him before ? Ari admits that he had been during the invasion of Lebanon in military intelligence, but denies any link to Shatila and Sabra. A Pierre, haunted prostate cancer and by Lebanon flashbacks, wants to confess his sins. Crucially, however, he also pushes to get a confession from Ari, whose (artificial) bonhomie currently transmogrifies into something approaching menace.

“Remember what happened to Hobeika?” Ari asks rhetorically, referring to the commander of the militia unit of Pierre. (Real-life) Elie Hobeika, long connected to Sabra and Shatila, was assassinated by unknown parties in 2002, on the eve of proposed court testimony he promised would implicate Israel’s then-prime minister Ariel Sharon more profoundly in the slaughter than was true.

It falls upon Cyril, 24, a diminished newsroom intern in a tv station, roundly ignorant of Lebanon’s history, burdened by strained relationships with his girlfriend and mom, never near his aloof father, to crack the late Pierre’s connection with Ari. And to ascertain if his death was caused by it. A number of the most electrifying moments of the novel emerge from the detective work of Cyril in the and on Cape Breton’s Mabou Coal Mines shore.

MacIntyre can’t resist using coincidence. An ostensibly militiaman allowed a Pierre to escape execution. A couple of years later (still in Lebanon), he returned the favour. At a mine in Indonesia run from the company of, Pierre’s Sabra and Shatila flashbacks are triggered by a deadly shooting in 2007. He meets with Ari. Cyril’s involvement follows a similar pattern; as he uncovers a startling Lebanon connection between his father and the sole Café’s creepiest patron, a colleague of his in the TV station finds that Ari could be in cahoots with CSIS in the observation and even entrapment of Canadian Muslims.

For all his excesses, the writer retains a firm grip on his subject matter. This may derive from his past. Lebanon, Israel’s invasion, Shatila and Sabra, Cyril learning the ropes? Think: The MacIntyre’s storied career at the CBC, which included submitting irregular reports over the years from Lebanon. Cape Breton, Cyril goes digging for clues and where his end is met by Pierre? Believe: MacIntyre’s home area, the setting for several of his books, and where The Only Café‘s elegant prose reaches a lyrical quality, as with, “The sun was melting on the border of the sea, pooling and running at a silver path toward the coast.”

It’s a testament to MacIntyre’s dexterity in channelling these elements into a narrative which, despite its involvement with the more convoluted battle of a Middle Eastern country, remains cohesive , he succeeds. Additionally, as befits The Only Café‘s layered arrangement, any theme admits of more than one meaning or message. Beneath it lurks a caveat the most manifest theme of the novel is no exception.

Your past will conquer all and any efforts on your part. Really, “the past is not dead as long as there is memory{}” However, beware of fully reviving it; to your past belongs to you.

Rayyan Al-Shawaf is a writer and book critic in Beirut.

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Review: Linden MacIntyre will transfix readers with narrative and its disquieting

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