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.