A Retired Gentleman by Issa J. Boullata

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A Retired Gentleman and Other Stories (2007) is a collection of 8 short stories in an 106-page booklet. The author, Issa J. Boullata, is a former professor and translator of Arabic literature, who has written a novel and a biography of Iraqi poet Badr Shakir al-Sayyab.

‘Without a Court Trial’ is about two friends, Abdallah and Hamdi, arrested after eating in a restaurant in Jerusalem in the spring of 1957. They were celebrating Abdallah’s migration to America in two days time.

‘Bar-room Confessions’ is written in the first person by a man drinking with his friend, Sam, in a bar in Montreal, Canada, reminiscing about their long-time friendship in Lebanon. Sam is fidgety and uneasy – and reveals that his wife May wants a divorce.

‘Third in Command’ is about George Sa’di, and how he became executive officer in an investment firm, a year after migrating to Vancouver, Canada. It began with a message from an old lady in Nazareth, Israel, in which she requested that he deliver a letter to Mr. Rasheed Sleeman of Sleeman & Son investment and trading firm.

‘Harvest of the Years’ is written in the first person by a man who sees his friend, Jimmy Ferris (previously Jamil Faris), after ten years, in Hartford, Connecticut. They had known each other in Amman, Jordan. Jimmy was in the fast-food business after migrating to America.

‘All is Vanity’ is about high school lovers, Gaby and Randa, in Alexandria, Egypt. Both their families were leaving Egypt permanently – to go to Canada. This is about the two sweethearts and the life they live in their new homeland, and especially the emancipation of Gaby.

‘Search for Saleema’ is set in the Old City of Jerusalem. It is about a man who had been searching for 19 years, since the bombing of his neighbourhood in 1948, for a woman who worked in the main post office – the woman he was about to marry.

‘A Retired Gentleman’ is thinking back to the day he met Margaret Lufti in Lebanon, before he migrated to Montreal, Canada. She was married now with a daughter, Lena. William Shibli, now in his seventies, had never married, but he did become a multimillionaire.

‘True Love, Mad Love’ is the last letter of Jim in San Francisco, written on 25 June, 2001, to Nadia.

The collection concludes with an epilogue entitled ‘Books and I’ in which the author details the books that influenced his writing, from the first book he read at eight years of age to the books of Arabic writers and poets.

The stories are all about emigrants to Canada and the United States, from Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt, and Syria – long before the current situation. Their stories are about exile, loss, and nostalgia, but also about new relationships and jobs, renewed friendships, dreams, happiness, success, cultural assimilation, challenges, and above all – choices.

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