The Glass Coffeehouse: Stories
By Asma Bohsali Kombargi
2016, Bright Sky Press, 978-94294-502-4, $19.95 pb.
Reviewed by William Tracy on June 2, 2016
Readers wishing for unvarnished glimpses into Arab culture in the Mediterranean Near East following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I will likely find this slim volume of short stories especially interesting. The author draws her fictional tales from her own family history. She grew up in Lebanon in the 1940s and early '50s and attended the American School for Girls in Beirut. After marrying, and later immigrating to Texas with her family, she taught Middle East politics at two Houston universities. The principal story, which gives the book its title, focuses on the regular meetings of five Sunni Muslim businessmen over tea and narghiles. They gossip and discuss the Arab revolt from the Turks and its complex aftermath. Meanwhile, in marked counterpoint to their café debates, normal life goes on: Dutiful wives manage their kitchens and homes, raise children and grandchildren, and arrange marriages for a stream of 16-year-old daughters from the neighborhood to young men from "good" families. Indeed, these six sensitively told “domestic” tales, with their intimate insights into what’s still a not-quite-vanished lifestyle, are what make The Glass Coffeehouse most fascinating.