Sometimes you need a quietly transformative story, one that takes your assumptions, twists them into a shape you didn’t initially see and casts them back at you in a really lovely way. Welcome to Hotline, the latest novel by Dimitri Nasrallah. Set in Canada in the late 1980s, Nasrallah based the story of Muna Heddad on his mother’s story of rebuilding a new life when his family landed in Montreal in the 1980s. This is a really wonderful, touching story of a woman whose life takes an incredibly sharp turn, and the ways in which she constructs herself a new life, as challenging as it is.
Muna has fled from Lebanon with her son Omar, leaving behind a war but carrying the pain of the loss of her husband Halim, who was abducted off the street near their apartment when he was getting the car to drive them to their ancestral village. Muna and Omar have been in Canada for seven months, when running out of money and hope that she will get a job as a French teacher in Montreal, Muna applies for a job at a weight-loss centre called Nutri-Fort. Her job is to work their client hotline, answering questions from potential clients and following up with current clients, keeping them on the plan. Muna is uncertain about the job, but it pays something, and while counselling the clients of Nutri-Fort over the phone, she dispenses advice that she needs to hear too.
Alternating between Muna’s present struggles as a single mother and her past in Lebanon, where she met Halim, fell in love, and had Omar, this is a story of struggle and triumph, but also of love. Muna begins to imagine she can see Halim in the evenings, and carries out conversations with him, asking him for help and longing for his touch. Muna’s new life is a lonely one, but one she slowly begins to master, despite the worries about money, the concern about Omar and if he’s coping well, and the distance she feels from her family and home, with no contact to tell her parents or in-laws what has become of them, or for her family to send any word of Halim.
Hotline is a tender, compassionate story. Muna is hopeful, despite her losses. I was primed to be skeptical of Nutri-Fort as a workplace for Muna, and indeed, it is a classic weight-loss centre hawking actually unhealthy food – as a medical student points out in a scene in the novel – but it becomes the place where Muna finds herself again and creates a new foundation for her life. Her relationships with the clients are the basis for growing in confidence and building a relationship with her boss. There aren’t any easy answers or strong conclusions to Muna’s story, but it is an ultimately peaceful one – the peace which she deserves.
Dimitri Nasrallah is the author of four novels. He was born in Lebanon in 1977, and lived in Kuwait, Greece, and Dubai before moving to Canada. His internationally acclaimed books have garnered nominations for CBC Canada Reads, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and the Grand Prix du Livre de Montréal, and won the Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction and the McAuslan First Book Prize. He is the fiction editor at Véhicule Press.
- Publisher : Esplanade Books (March 1 2022)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 280 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1550655949
- ISBN-13 : 978-1550655940
Alison Manley bounced around the Maritimes before landing in Miramichi, NB, where she works as a hospital librarian. She has an honours BA in political science and English from St. Francis Xavier University, and a Master of Library and Information Studies from Dalhousie University. When she's not reading biomedical research for her work, she likes reading poetry, contemporary and historical fiction, and personal essays. Noted for a love of bright colours (and lipstick), you can find her wandering the banks of the Miramichi River with a book and a paintbrush.