Alameddine’s spectacular novel is rendered through the refreshingly honest lens of Dr. Mina ... Dr. Mina is the storyteller the refugees deserve: respected by the Europeans, but steeped in their traditions and history ... This is the first novel I’ve read that gives ample room to the ugliness of certain camp volunteers (the bored, the coddled, those battling pangs of uselessness) and the many humiliations some inflict on the displaced. But calling out anyone who gave up a vacation to meet boats seems ungrateful, so the refugees smile for their rescuers’ camera-phones and keep quiet ... Alameddine’s irreverent prose evokes the old master storytellers from my own Middle Eastern home, their observations toothy and full of wit, returning always to human absurdity ... Again and again, Dr. Mina cracks open the strange, funny and cruel social mores of East and West. She shows us that acceptance and rejection exist across borders and often manifest in surprising ways ... Throughout the book, Dr. Mina addresses a blocked and disillusioned Lebanese writer who, having seen too much displacement and horror, finally breaks. I found this mysterious unnamed listener deeply poignant.
The Wrong End of the Telescope...is as complex and multifaceted as its narrator. The story is a shape-shifting kaleidoscope, a collection of moments—funny, devastating, absurd—that bear witness to the violence of war and displacement without sensationalizing it ... This is not a novel about transformation. Its strength lies in its slipperiness, its thoughtful engagement with the messy in-betweens and the harsh but revelatory realities of liminality ... Mina, her fellow volunteers and the refugees they meet are all seeking something ... The Wrong End of the Telescope is a gorgeously written, darkly funny and refreshingly queer witness to that seeking.
... a peculiar novel, intentionally—a prismatic, sui generis story that’s unafraid of humor while addressing a humanitarian crisis, threading a needle between that urge to witness and the recognition that doing so may be pointless ... Alameddine finds a consistent tone ... Sumaiya is experiencing a crisis atop a crisis, but Alameddine wants to keep medical or political solutions at a distance. Most urgent for the refugee is clinging to her dignity ... In Telescope, Alameddine attempts to universalize Mina’s experience on Lesbos, but not out of a callow urge to suggest that her dilemmas—or yours—are comparable to the Syrians’. But if the solution to the crisis resides in empathy, a reminder of our own travels and our own uncertainty might be a meaningful step ... Blind optimism and pat solutions are for other novels. The prevailing mood here is resignation, but of a gimlet-eyed sort, rooted in an unwillingness to give up entirely. The answer is somewhere, but not exclusively in a book.
The compromise the novel strikes is, alas, cautious and unsatisfying. In place of a story, Mina recounts small interactions and collegial chats alongside personal memories and choice anecdotes. All this is warm and disarming...but it quickly comes to seem like filibustering ... Mr. Alameddine follows in the popular and lamentable trend of making his own novelistic failures part of the texture of the narrative. 'Metaphor seems useless now, storytelling impotent,' the fictional Alameddine complains, but absent those there’s just . . . talk.
... a beautiful, well paced, enraging, funny and heartbreaking book ... Mina is a thoughtful narrator, and the book interweaves her story with those of the unnamed writer and the refugees she encounters, making the novel a rolling triptych of sorts ... Sumaiya’s tale is representative of Alameddine’s portrayal of the refugee stories: plain, unflinching and deeply observed, without being sentimental or cloying ... doesn’t so much switch between emotional registers as occupy all of them at once – humour, grief, anger, melancholy, love of every stripe. Mina is a wise, quiet and perceptive woman, and her keen observations give the novel dynamism and life. Her status as narrator also underlines the unnamed writer’s lack of omniscience, an effect that attains great power by the book’s last chapter, when Mina and her wife, Francine, drive the core themes of the novel home. Refreshingly, Mina’s transness is just one of many elements in her story – there’s no cheesy transition narrative. (Though Emma, who is also trans, is unfortunately rather one-note and definitely one of the weaker characters).
... provocative ... Alameddine draws on his experiences with refugees to reveal the crowded humanity of Moria, but his aim is also to challenge the idea of an easy solution to a refugee crisis. In work that parallels the current plight of Afghan refugees, we see desperation, beauty and ingenuity ... This creates an opportunity for Alameddine to challenge the notion of the refugee novel he’s writing and highlight the inherent weaknesses of narrative and metaphor. But Alameddine makes an argument for writing even when writing fails. Especially when writing fails.
...this arresting work of art has many more secrets to reveal ... With enormous generosity and knowing humor ('don't f**king call it A Lebanese Lesbian in Lesbos, just don't'), The Wrong End of the Telescope is an unequivocal masterpiece ... The brilliant Rabih Alameddine surveys the complexity of one doctor's identity in a wise and wisecracking novel about Syrian refugees arriving on Lesbos.
The great strength of this latest novel from National Book Award finalist Alameddine lies in how it deftly combines the biographical with the historical; the small, more personal moments often carry the most weight. A remarkable, surprisingly intimate tale of human connection in the midst of disaster.
Mina is a riveting narrator, struggling to find her footing even when the weight of her identity is crushing. Alameddine also paints a kaleidoscopic view of the many facets of the refugee crisis, including a scathing indictment of disaster tourism.
A Lebanese doctor travels to the island of Lesbos to help refugees and confront her past in the profound and wonderful latest from Alameddine, a meditation on loss, resilience, and love ... Alameddine crafts a wise, deeply moving story that can still locate humor in the pit of hell ... This is a triumph.
Such is the ease and openness of the narrative that it's tempting to read it as autobiographical ... No one writes fiction that is more naturally an extension of lived life than this master storyteller. Engaging and unsettling in equal measure.