The Night Counter by Alia Yunis – Discussion with the Author

On Monday, May 3rd we enjoyed a special Kutub discussion of The Night Counter, along with the author Alia Yunis – at a special time of 7:30 pm. While this was the first ever Kutub selection which is only available in English, we were delighted to make an exception to have the author join us.  We look forward to the day when The Night Counter is translated into Arabic. Shifting between the U.S. and the Middle East over the last hundred years, in this reinvention of the epic 1,001 nights here Yunis crafts a bewitching novel imbued with great humanity, imagination, and a touch of magic realism.

About the story:

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.

About the author:

A PEN Emerging Voices Fellow, Alia Yunis is an Arab-American of Palestinian-Lebanese descent who was born in Chicago and grew up in the U.S. and Middle East, particularly Beirut during its civil war.  Primarily based in Los Angeles until recently, she has worked as a filmmaker and journalist in several cities. Her fiction has been published in several journals and anthologies, and her non-fiction work has appeared in a variety of publications, including the Los Angeles Times, Saveur, SportsTravel Magazine, and Aramco World. She has read from her work at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, the Los Angeles Public Library, the West Hollywood Book Festival, and the World Stage. She has been awarded writing residencies at Hedgebrook and at the MacNamara Foundation in Maine.

Yunis completed her undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Minnesota and American University in Washington, DC and currently teaches film and television at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi. This is her first novel.

More information at:

For a Q&A with the author, click here.

For a list of discussion questions, click here.

Quotes from Reviews:

“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

“Yunis’ debut is a magical, whimsical read with plenty of humor and heart.” –Booklist

“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

2 comments on “The Night Counter by Alia Yunis – Discussion with the Author

  1. Larry Blake says:

    You’ve done it once more! Amazing writing!

  2. […] The Night Counter by Alia Yunis […]

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